Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: Virginia Stringer
Publisher: Archway Publishing
Coming from a background of thirty years teaching, writing and directing for children’s theatre, in Just Maagy, Virginia Stringer has created a fairytale that focuses on the coming of age of a princess in an imagined realm. As Stringer states in her introduction to the tale, which is given in a number of chapter books “set in fairytale time”, having started out to write a fifty-minute play about an impetuous little princess, she quickly realized that she had more stage directions and set description than dialogue, so decided to make Just Maagy a narrative instead. The work is, indeed, marked by the tangibility of its imagery, from the details of the kingdom in relation to its neighbours, with Maagy’s having to come to terms with the need for diplomatic handling of its territorial neighbours, despite doing so running counter to her own nature at times, forming much of the first part of the book.
There is, naturally, a charming prince, who first encounters Maagy, dressed as a commoner, throwing a hissy fit in an ice-cream parlour, which can be seen, to a certain extent, as a debunking of the traditional chaste maiden held captive in an impenetrable castle, or as one who is surrounded by overzealous bodyguards who are all too eager to defend the former’s virtue. In Just Maagy, the princess’s virtues only become clear as the tale progresses, with her being called upon to emerge from a spoilt and yet somewhat emotionally deprived background (with her mother having died while she was still very young, and a father who is very much preoccupied with affairs of state) to a position where she has to accept the fact that one day she will have to reign in her father’s stead.
The book is well illustrated, with a number of detailed maps that give the topographical dimensions of the fictive world, as well as several full-page line drawings of scenes from the story. As reflective of Stringer’s theatrical background, the imagery is extremely visual, and, in some places, is of an epic scale, such as in the conceptualization of the different regions that form part of the imagined world. Maagy’s exploration of the Summer Castle is also another example of a case at point―her venturing into other rooms in wings of the castle yet unseen can be seen as her daring to try out paths as yet untrod in her advancing adolescence. Just Maagy is multilayered, and, while the heroine plays an active role in her own development, the forces in, and the demands emanating from, the wider society in which she is destined to play an ever more important role are seen as significant and taxing.
Just Maagy is a challenging read that reveals the emotional nuances to which any emerging adolescent is likely to be subject. By using the fairytale format, Stringer has given novel dimensions to a coming-of-age work, which should, by its very strangeness, enable children of that age to consider their fluctuating moods and feelings within an objective context. In short, classroom debates around this tale should be numerous and varied, and, as a starting point for such debate, Just Maagy is to be highly recommended.