I give this cute book about a girl wanting a home of her own...a 90/100!
Who here has heard of Julie Andrews? If you have, it’s no surprise. She’s become a household name since the 60s. She’s a famous actress and Broadway singer who is very well known movies/musicals such as The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. I have not seen either of those movies, but I know enough about them to recognize the impact they, along with she, made on popular culture. But one thing that most people don’t know about her is that she also happened to write a few books. Some are autobiographies whereas others are fictional books aimed at children. One of those books is Mandy, the subject of today’s review.
Looking at the premise, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought it was cliché and already done to death before. The story is about Mandy, a bright, cheery ten-year-old girl who lives at an orphanage alongside many other kids. As happy as her life is, she still yearns for a home to call her own. One day, while exploring, she finds a mysterious cottage over the wall. Entranced by its beauty, she decides to claim it as her own, cleaning it up and planting flowers around it to make a garden, hoping to make it beautiful. But she finds herself doing things she normally doesn’t do in order to keep it a secret, such as stealing things and telling lies. When things get out of hand, she receives help from a friend she never knew she had.
Stories about orphans are a dime a dozen, and have been done many, many times before. But for me, it’s not about whether the story is original or not, but rather the execution of the story and how its told. While Andrews does make some missteps as a writer, I think she hit a home run with this one. Her prose is still very simple, as a children’s book normally is, but she never skimps on the details. There’s a lot of detailed imagery describing the setting, such as the seashell cottage, the garden Mandy makes, the woods by the orphanage. It’s not Felix Salten level good, but Andrews provides enough detail to bring everything to life without overdoing it, offering just enough to be accessible to both kids and adults without insulting the reader’s intelligence. It helps that she really goes out of her way to put you in Mandy’s shoes, show you what she’s thinking, the processes behind it, and showing why she does what she does and is what she is. I like a writer who can really bring out her character through their thoughts and actions, and she does it splendidly with Mandy here.
There isn’t much I can say about the characters. They’re relatively well written and are likeable enough, though don’t have a whole lot of depth. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case, as this is a slice-of-life novel, and the characters act like real people would. I do like that the matron of the orphanage is genuinely kind and caring, only scolding Mandy when she has genuinely done something wrong, and her punishments are always fair, instead of being portrayed as just another stereotypically evil woman who hates kids and gets off on making the main characters miserable. Mandy herself is pretty well written as well. She’s genuinely nice and friendly and acts like a real kid, though isn’t a perfect holy paragon of goodness either. She makes mistakes and does things she shouldn’t, but not without good reason. She always feels remorseful when she does and tries to fix her mistakes. They’re all good, normal people who are realistic and don’t try to be something they’re not. I have to say, despite this being one of Julie Andrews' first novels, she did a surprisingly good job with characterization. There wasn't a single character that I didn't like, and everybody behaves and acts realistically. I kind of wish we got to see more of Sue and the other kids Mandy played with, but Mandy's characters are pretty well done.
Personally, I didn't find much wrong with the novel. I like the prose, but some may feel it's still rather simplistic. If you're a fan of slice-of-life novels, then this'll be a nice little charmer, but these kinds of books aren't for everyone. Not much happens in the book, and despite the plot picking up at the end of the summer chapters, some may still feel that there isn't much of a story. I found it fine, but people all have different tastes. Some may find the ending to be too happy and too pat, but I found it sweet in light of everything that leads up to it. I kind of wish we got to see Mandy doing things outside of her orphanage and garden, like going to school and the things she does there. For me, the novel has a narrow focus, restrains itself, and never tries to be anything it isn't, which is a cute little book aimed at kids. It's far better written than...say, Elsie Dinsmore.
Bottom line, if you want to read a sweet book with your kid, pick Mandy when you get the chance. It's basically The Secret Garden without the bratty kids and the racism. That should tell you all you need to know, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Kudos to you, Julie Andrews.