Monday, 9 November 2009

The Dresskeeper by Mary Naylus (Young Adult, 10E/10E)

30th November 2009, Prospera Publishing
238 pages, Paperback
Review Copy

I'm pretty sure most of people at some point in their childhood played dress-up - be it with their parents' clothes, siblings wardrobe (which later in life is no longer dress-up) or a box with costumes in. The thrill of wearing something different didn't exactly touch Picky (Penelope) in her dementia suffering grandmother's attic. Being locked in there by her grandmother, without food, water, mobile phone or bathroom facilities has Picky searching for something to sleep on. The old clothes she found weren't the warmest, so she put one dress on. That was the moment which changed her life forever.

Taken back in time, Picky takes on the persona of a rich 13 year old called Amelia. Aside from the fact that someone murders Amelia on that first time travel incident, leaving Picky covered in fresh blood which isn't her own (yes her mother asked a lot of questions), Picky likes Amelia's life. For a girl whose skin isn't perfect and whose figure isn't seen as anorexic, Picky loves Amelia's smooth face and hair. But she can't stay in Amelia's life - she has her own to lead.

Time travelling proves entertaining as she finds excuses for appearing in the same place in the house of Mrs Malik the seamstress. Most people might burn the dress after nearly dying in it. Not Picky. She wants to stop Amelia's murder taking place. She doesn't love the sights and smells of 17th century London, but the people touch her heart. Some are more similar to her friends in the modern world than she originally imagined them to be. There are some positively evil men (who don't look or smell nice), one of whom poor Picky (as Amelia) is doomed to marry.

Written in first person, The Dresskeeper took me away to a complicated world. Life isn't easy for Picky, having to keep an eye on her little brother Ollie (who isn't all that polite to people), helping her mother out by looking after her grandmother (who can't help being ditzy), and dealing with her moron of a father who appears in her life when feels it's best. Top that with constantly fighting against the Demon and the Demon worshippers (not in the literal sense of the word) at school (anorexic smokers) who take bets against other pupils (Picky and her friends), Picky has a tremendous amount of courage to get through normal life, and heaps of guts for risking her life in the past to help a girl she doesn't even know. I related to her tale on a lot of levels - apart from the time travelling.

Picky's voice is really funny. All the details she notices about people in her own time, are the kind of details she notices about people in the past (what they look like, how they smell (taken in context it isn't all that weird)). Aside from the distinct lack of underwear and washing facilities, I'd love to try on the dresses Picky gets to wear. I could do without the madman putting a knife to her throat. Blood might be thicker than water, but it won't come out easily of dresses in a time without washing machines or reliable detergent.

What she does at the end of the book, after her escapade in the past is finished, is really sweet and has me desperately hoping there might be a sequel to this. It isn't completely out of the question - she could find time travelling clothes in another place, leading to further adventures. And the end itself leads me as a reader to question what does happen next.

Only a few minor areas had me going 'hm' when Picky magically transfered from the past to the present, but I understand that it's not exactly exciting to learn of every time she sneaks in/out of the past (or present). I love the cover art for this book - simple yet effective, making me wish for a copy of that particular dress.

The good news is that Mary Naylus has written another book. The bad news, The Plaguemaker isn't due out until 2010.

For more information on The Dresskeeper, check out Prospera Publishing's website.

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