The Exiles At Home


Though money was sought from their parents in The Exiles, the Conroy sisters seek it from less obvious avenues in ‘The Exiles at Home‘. Their parents must not discover why the girls are so intent on earning money, nor how they are collecting an allotted sum each month. Ruth’s impulsive Christmas commitment captures each of them; their focus growing as the letters arrive from Kenya…

Money earning ventures might be creating sandwiches in the neighbours’ dog’s kennel, or chalk drawings outside the church. It could involve exhausting the neighbour’s baby so that he falls asleep. It may lead to planting a flower garden in for an elderly couple without disturbing their parrot’s grave. Certainly money in the post office, or in an antique train- without any receptacle with which to remove treasure- are dead end money sources.

Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe Conroy have such independence, initiative and creativity that their ventures are always surprising and entertaining. Yet ‘The Exiles at Home’, like its predecessor, is no Blyton- like romp. These are real girls, with anxieties, fears and flaws.They are selfish, reckless, thoughtless, yet so very real and likeable.

I cried when I’d finished reading ‘The Exiles at Home’. This is a such a warm, empathetic, well-meaning, and perfectly realise story about characters whom you feel you really know.


The Exiles At Home

Hilary McKay

(Pan Macmillan)

It is the end of the autumn term when we meet the Conroy sisters anew. Each of the four girls returns with bedraggled, disappointing school reports, though Naomi’s is rather confusing- ‘one of the worst-motivated boys in class‘. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Conroy girls. Christmas and a £10.00 gift for each initiates more. One sister commits to a post office savings plan that confuses her and the post office staff, while another fritters it on a  series of incidentals. A third sister deposits her note into an antique train from which nothing can ever be removed. The fourth, yet eldest, commits to a charity scheme upon which she lies about her age; this commitment impacts upon each of the four girls and their year in ways they cannot imagine.
I love The Exiles and was bereft when the girls left their Big Grandma for home. I doubted its sequel could hope to meet the quality of storytelling; how wrong I was. ‘The Exiles at Home‘ is warm, funny, original and real. Though published more than 25 years ago, and reprised in this edition, the story is fresh. Hilary McKay has created four girls who delight, horrify and engage us. We love Ruth’s reckless dreaminess, Rachel’s gluttony, Naomi’s determination and Phoebe’s wilfulness. They may despair their parents and Martin the good, but we recognise their goodness, curiosity, thoughtlessness and pleasing lack of artifice. I recommend ‘The Exiles at Home‘ without hesitation. The story is the second of a trilogy, though it works alone perfectly.

Winner of the Smarties Prize


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