Aunt Maria Paperback – Sep 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
After their father disappears, Mig and her brother, Chris, go with their mother to visit Aunt Maria, an elderly tyrant who is as demure as she is iron-willed. Upon arriving, Mig and her mother discover that they are expected to keep house for Aunt Maria, as well as provide freshly baked cakes for her daily tea parties. These unwelcome chores do not prevent Mig from noticing that there's something very strange going on in sleepy Cranbury-on-Sea. Aunt Maria and her cronies are the only residents with any will of their own--their husbands and sons are zombie-like, and all the children are locked away in a huge orphanage on the outskirts of town. When Chris is transformed into a wolf, Mig must rescue him by unraveling the twisted secret that guides the lives of the villagers. Wry observations about the oddities of family life, along with plenty of spine-tingling spookiness, will keep readers glued to every turn of the labyrinthine plot. In the tradition of her novels The Ogre Downstairs and Eight Days of Luke , Jones takes the ordinary world and steeps it in an intoxicating witch's brew. Ages 12-up.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
Grade 7-9 --Something's definitely amiss in Cranbury-on-Sea. That's the conclusion Mig Laker and her older brother Chris reach almost immediately upon arriving to spend their Easter holidays with their Great-Aunt Maria . The men of this scenic resort village are all "gray-suited zombies," the children are passive orphans, and a core group of women, whom the Lakers nickname the Mrs. Urs, keep a sharp eye on things and report back to their aunt. Maria, a seemingly helpless elderly woman, holds court at daily tea; as it turns out, she runs the town and manipulates individuals and events through guilt, suggestion, and--if all else fails--intimidation. She's even occasionally forced to change uncooperative souls into cats, wolves, and other creatures. The narrative is comprised of Mig's account of the rather amazing goings-on in her journal, and expertly treads the fine line between the factual and the fantastic. Jones offers "possible" explanations for most occurrences; readers will question, just as Mig does, whether such events can really have happened or if they were simply imagined. The qualities of love and trust do prevail, and Mig's fondness for happy endings is realized. The intricate, multifaceted plot and rich cast of characters are deftly handled by this master storyteller. She spins an unusual yarn that is at once supernatural and realistic, humorous and horrifying, mysterious and enlightening.
- Luann Toth, School Library Journal
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
In this novel, Betty Laker came home early one evening and answered the phone when Aunt Maria called. Unfortunately, she agreed to spend the Easter holiday in Cranbury. So off they go in their little slow car over the winding road, past the place that Greg Laker had gone over the side, and down into Cranbury. Aunt Maria was home, but Lavinia, her caretaker, wasn't. Moreover, the cupboards and refrigerator were almost empty, so they had a sort of nut scrambled eggs for supper and then put up their things and went to bed.
The next day, Mig starts learning that strange things are going on in Cranbury. The commuters are gray-suited zombies, the orphans are clones, and somebody is driving their Dad's car with different license plates. Moreover, Chris discovers that he has a ghost in his room, Betty notices that the cat hanging around the place looks like the missing Lavinia, and the next door neighbor starts acting like Aunt Maria's chief of police.
In this story, Aunt Maria has a way of manipulating everybody by evoking guilt. She surrounds herself with a coterie of ladies who cater to her every whim.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I wanted to like this book more. I would recommend this to any Diana Wynne Jones fan, but if this is your first time reading such a splendid writer, you'd be better off sampling some of her best books first and returning to Aunt Maria later. I'd recommend Archer's Goon, Howl's Moving Castle, Dark Lord of Derkholm, any of the Chrestomanci novels, or Hexood instead. By all means dive into this prolific and imagintive author! But try her other works first.
After the accidental death of their father, Naomi "Mig" and Chris Laker are reluctantly taken to Cranbury-on-Sea by their mother to visit Aunt Maria. Maria appears to be a cuddly old lady (though is constantly ringing up and meddling in their lives), but once they get to their house the siblings find that she is much worse. Behind her compliments and manners is an old lady determined to get her own way - for instance, when she says "I won't bother with breakfast, now Lavinia's not here to bring it to me in bed," she means: "I demand breakfast in bed."
Cranbury itself is just as bad: the women flock around Maria in daily tea-parties like she's their Queen-bee, whilst the men work like zombies and the clone-like children spend their days in an orphanage. Enigmas pile up on all sides: who is the ghost haunting Chris's room? What happened to the previous maid Lavinia? Why does Maria despise the elderly Phelp neighbours? What is contained within the beautiful green box Mig finds? And could it be possible that the children's father actually reached Cranbury on the day he supposedly died?
All the answers to these mysteries are brought together beautifully as the book progresses - but not before Mig must deal with the battle of the sexes in the town, the fact that her brother has been turned into a wolf, the mind-manipulation being dealt upon her mother, and Maria's own sinister designs for her! For such a slim volume it is jam-packed full of interesting ideas, plot revelations and clever ideas.
Diana Wynne Jones usually prefers males as her protagonists, but after reading Mig I hope that in the future she creates more female ones, as she's one of the funniest, sympathetic, self-aware and utterly helpless heroines I've ever read - and despite her complete lack of doing hardly anything proactive or helpful throughout the book, she's an utter delight. Also on hand is her brother Chris who is far more outspoken than she, and doesn't hesitate to insult anyone he pleases. Throughout the story the bond between the siblings is strong, realistic and immensely touching - as when the transformed Chris seeks out comfort from his sister.
Mrs Laker is also nicely created, as is the sinister Elaine, but of course the centrepiece of the story is Maria herself. Self-righteous, self-pitying, hypocritical, intensely annoying, and yet a pleasure to read about, this is one character that's impossible to describe: you'll have to read in order to really appreciate what Wynne Jones has created. The family's way of handling Maria is the author at her hilarious best, and the closest another author has come to capturing the sheer loathsomeness of Maria is J.K. Rowling (who by the way, has almost certainly read this book) and her own villainess Dolorous Umbridge.
As well as this is the intricate and well-paced plot, which includes a huge number of characters, events, magical implements and ideas. The time-travel sequence in particular is marvellously created, and I'm certain it was the inspiration for Harry Potter's similar experience in "The Prisoner of Azkaban." Most wonderful of all is her ability to take human relationships and explore them in depth - in this case it is the way some use guilt and the rules of manners in order to get their way.
I would say that "Aunt Maria" is my favourite Diana Wynne Jones book out there, but so many great titles are out there that I wouldn't want to limit myself to just one. In any case "Aunt Maria" an immensely enjoyable book - and if there are any film-makers out there, it would also make a brilliant movie: hint, hint.
Still, I couldn't put it down. I love her writing style, the symbolism involved (keeping adults entertained), and her blending of right and wrong - leaving us questioning. (I love gray areas!) Many of us are aware of our society being unbalanced now, and this book portrays a community that is tipped in the other direction.
From a parental point of view, Mig (the heroine) is a strong female character, the sibling relationship is honestly portrayed and healthy, and I like a book that makes kids question the world around them. (even the adults) I'm off to find more of Wynne Jones' books!
But "Aunt Maria" turns out to be even worse than your average relative, in this engaging, humourous and chilling fantasy novel. Diana Wynne-Jones spins a fantastical story of witchcraft and revenge, all centering on the elderly lady who sweetly lords it over Cranbury-on-Sea.
After her father is apparently killed in a car accident, Mig and her family go to stay with Aunt Maria, mainly because her mother feels guilty. Aunt Maria is very prim and very sweet, and makes a point of guilting people into doing what she wants. Life revolves around Aunt Maria's tea parties, and the men and children act like automatons.
Mig and her brother Chris hate it there, despite the sad ghost who appears in Chris's room. But they start to suspect that magic may be at work, and that Aunt Maria may be at the center of it. When Chris annoys her, she transforms him into a wolf. Now Mig must uncover a magical plot that stretches back over the decades -- and is the key to dethroning Aunt Maria.
It's hard enough to deal with such elderly, sickly-sweet relatives if they are normal. Imagine if they are cold-hearted witches, who turn their own daughters into wolves. And if Diana Wynne-Jones was trying to make people feel lucky for not having an Aunt Maria, then she succeeds beautifully.
Jones paints a chilling picture of Cranbury -- sort of a "Stepford Wives" situation, except it's Stepford Husbands and Kids, all slaves to the stifling sweetness of Aunt Maria. The one weak spot is the ending -- it's not a terribly bad ending, but it is kind of weak, especially compared to the quiet menace of the past several chapters.
Mig is a likable character, although her rebellious brother Chris comes across as the more engaging of the main characters, and readers might want to kick her meek, submissive mother. Aunt Maria is the most frighteningly real, from her outdated opinions to her pushy sweetness; she's horrified at girls wearing pants, eating fish'n'chips for dinner, and favors boys over girls. Even worse, she genuinely believes that she is a wonderful person.
Take the most irritating old lady imaginable... and give her evil magic powers. That's the chilling picture painted in "Aunt Maria," which will make readers intensely grateful that they aren't Chris and Mig.
Do they think (do you think) that a good story is just plot?
Well, fans of this great writer, Diana Wynne Jones, know she puts enough twists in each of her plots to fill a dozen lesser writers' books. What Jones always brings are qualities of character and inventive storytelling. (Her epic Dalemark Quartet leaves me spellstruck, still, decades later.) And you get that here, in spades. She deals with themes most other writers would treat as horror, melodrama.
Readers of her books know they will subtly learn something about the way the world works - call it psychology, philosophy, or call it magic. In "Aunt Maria," we explore broken families and how it goes over kids heads (& straight to the heart). It looks at the subjective differences between men & women, and how exploitation of both is surely taught. And, mostly, how we learn manipulation... and how that can be dealt with. Heavy things for "simple fantasy," eh?
That's Jones, for you. She always, ALWAYS gives more than you expect, more than she has to in a story. She works harder than anyone I know to put so much so carefully into a story. It's like reading a prismatically colorful Persian rug or Medieval tapestry, getting caught up in the workings of the threads. Watching the world unravel around you and then be woven whole again. You're in new cloth when you come to.
Read Diana Wynne Jones to learn what REAL magic is all about. Amazingly, one finishes a book of hers with ones' own magic increased. You might shrug it off as just the sense of wonder, the imagination. No matter, it's still powerful stuff to be passing on to us. Thanks, Diana.