The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson

When you’ve been happily married for twenty-four years, you don’t expect to find yourself lying in bed alone just before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Polly didn’t even know where her husband was. She hadn’t seen him for over a week. It had been so strange having Christmas without him, and now this.
She pulled the duvet up over her head and then straight back down again. It was no good, she couldn’t sleep through it.

Polly’s life is seemingly wonderful. Her children are both away at uni, her yoga classes are popular and her perfume blog has taken off. Her mother, a glamorous ex-model, is happily settled in an upmarket retirement village. The only problem is her disappearing husband who, out of the blue, has announced (via a letter) that he needs some space and is going away travelling for six months. There is to be no contact, no questions, no explanations.

As Polly struggles to make sens of this unsettling, monumental change, it is a trio of new friends who proves to be most helpful: Shirlee, a loudmouthed student at her yoga classes, who seems to have taken over Polly’s kitchen, and thinks nothing of being woken in the middle of the night for first aid help; Guy, a new, mysterious perfumer, who is fascinated by Polly’s work and wants to impress her; and Edward, a friend from university who unexpectedly reappears in her life. As she muddles through the increasing uncertainty of her husband’s absence, these friends help Polly make sense of it, and build a new life.

The Scent of You is a tale of romance, self-discovery and friendship against the mystery and upset of an absentee husband, peppered with the scents of the main character’s world. As well as her perfume blog, entries from which pepper the book, the scents of her different experiences are entwined so evocatively into the action that the reader can smell them, and becomes a little more aware of the smells of the real world, too.

Issues of ageing, secrets and psychological illness are explored in a story which is heart warming and absorbing.

The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson
Harper Collines, 2017
ISBN 9781460751213

Evangeline: The Wish Keeper's Helper by Maggie Alderson ill Claire Fletcher

Evangeline is a stuffed toy elephant, all but forgotten by her previously loving owner.

One morning, when Evangeline was lying under the bed, as usual, wondering what to think about next, a broom suddenly appeared and swept her out onto the bedroom floor.

The next thing she knew she was thrown into a big black plastic bag with a jumble of other toys, books and old clothes. She lay there for a while, quite comfortable on what felt like a fluffy jumper, with her eyes open and her big elephant ears pricked to listen in case something else happened, but nothing did, so after a while Evangeline closed her eyes and zoned out.

Evangeline is a stuffed toy elephant. When her owner tires of her, she is transported Upstairs, which is where all toys go, eventually. There, their erstwhile owners may forget them, but the toys do not forget. After they have been ‘processed’, they are each assigned a job suited to their interest and experience. All Evangeline wants is to be special to someone, to be their beloved companion, rather than a forgotten toy. Evangeline makes new friends Upstairs, but all is not well in this new world. There is something very wrong, and it’s getting worse. Illustration pages/colour plates are scattered throughout, the images soft watercolours with ink outlines. Pages are coloured to give an aged look, as if this were a book from another time.

Upstairs is the place of wishes, of sanctuary. It may either be a new permanent home, or a waiting place until a toy is sent Downstairs to be someone’s special toy. It’s also a place of friendship, of happiness and fulfilment. It’s a magical place where time and space are measured differently. There are strong themes around friendship and abandonment, good and evil. But even in the examination of evil, there is understanding and a plea to look behind the behaviour to what motivates it. ‘Evangeline’ is a gentle story, in a lovely hardback cover, that will work well as a read-to story, as well as a story for confident independent readers. Recommended for junior primary and as a read-to for younger children.

Evangeline, The Wish Keeper's Helper

Evangeline, The Wish Keeper’s Helperr, Maggie Alderson ill Claire Fletcher
Viking 2011
ISBN: 9780670075355

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author