Introducing Rebecca Higgie and her award-winning work, The History of Mischief (Fremantle Press, 2020). The manuscript won the 2019 Fogarty Literary Award and let me be one of the many to tell you, it is well-deserved.
Jessie and her older sister and caretaker, Kay, tragically lose their parents in a fatal car accident. The two sisters inherit the family home and the secrets that are buried beneath the floorboards, including ‘a book like no other’, The History of Mischief. As they learn to live without their parents and with an overbearing grief that seems to make each day harder than the last, the History offers Jessie and Kay a moment to escape their world into somebody else’s—well, so many different worlds.
Jessie, the nine-year-old protagonist, is our entry point into the narrative. Her character is superbly complex. Higgie has not reduced Jessie’s experiences or her emotions but rather allows her personhood to experience the fullness of her grief and her anger as she learns to navigate her trauma and relationships. Does Jessie always make the right decisions? Does she always treat her family and friends—perhaps herself—fairly? No, but making mistakes are a part of the human experience and, within the confines of the narrative, are the hallmark of Jessie’s growth.
The narrative is separated into Jessie’s experience and the stories recorded in the History spanning centuries. The stories themselves are works of magic. They recount the memories and events of every Mischief, a person chosen by the History to amplify their skills into magical abilities. We meet messengers who can spark fire; warrior mothers who can manipulate entire forests; minors who can carve rock and transform into ghosts; and book thieves who can completely freeze the Thames. The parallels to Avatar: The Last Airbender bonded my reading of The History of Mischief into a remarkable and pleasurable experience.
I underestimated this story initially and that was a mistake. The History of Mischief is evocative, ambitious, and a genius demonstration of plot. Of course, I want little more than to spoil it for you, but Higgie’s ability to manipulate plot is in itself an act of mischief. Congratulations to Rebecca Higgie on such an awe-inspiring work.