The last Jacqueline Wilson novel on the list, #155 Secrets is the 13th I’ve read, and that’s probably enough.
Treasure and India live just a few streets from each other, but their lives are worlds apart. Treasure’s young and trendy Nan has taken her in, because her mother’s boyfriend hits her. India’s family is crumbling in a different way – her parents can’t seem to stop arguing, and it’s often about money. Both are lonely, and when they meet it’s friendship at first sight. But can they stay together when so many grown ups have other plans?
The diary and Anne Frank
The novel is told through diary entries, with Treasure and India taking it in turns to tell their story. It’s a useful structure, as it allows the reader to see both sides of the story, even before they’ve met. It also lets Wilson tie in the Diary of Anne Frank, which is India’s favourite book. She even mentions Zlata’s Diary, a book I remember reading in school as it was a child’s diary of the war in Sarajevo in the early 1990s.
Bringing in The Diary of Anne Frank is an obvious choice for a book about secrets, and I can see why Wilson would want to guide her readers towards it. I’m not entirely convinced that the gambit works. India is very intense about Anne and her diary, but the rest of the novel never quite shares that passion. I found her attachment disquieting, to be honest. It really seems like she has nothing else in her life, not even any other books.
The back of the book describes this as a ‘novel for older readers’, and talks about the girls sharing ‘their most serious secret ever’. Given this dramatic set up, and the fact that the book starts with Treasure’s step-father sending her to casualty, I expected that the book would be particularly grim. It’s not. I mean, Wilson tackles serious subjects, as she usually does, but it doesn’t need a content warning above and beyond the usual.
I was honestly a little disappointed, thanks to the blurb, as I kept expecting something awful to happen that never really materialized. I realise this isn’t fair, and I think it’s because I’ve read so many of Wilson’s novels. I’m really not the target market and I’ve read a lot of them in quite an artificial way. Although this is a longer novel that most of the other Wilson novels on the list, it felt a bit thin and unsatisfying. Perhaps it’s time for me to read something aimed at adults!
Who is the book for?
Given that Wilson has already addressed the issues in the books in ones aimed (if I remember correctly) at younger readers, there are two reasons that I can see this book being for older – or perhaps more mature – readers. First, it’s longer, and doesn’t have as many illustrations. It’s jumped the line from illustrations every page or two to illuminated chapter headings. Second, it does talk about difficult things, and it also uses the story of Anne Frank. I imagine that a lot of readers will want to go on and read Anne’s diary, which itself is probably a book for older readers. In this context, of course, older readers are probably about 9-11 as most of Wilson’s books are probably aimed at 6-8 year-olds, with some aimed at those just starting to read on their own.
I do struggle to suggest age ranges for children’s books, partly because I don’t have any kids around to experiment on, as most of my friends either live far away or have very young children, and partly because I read so much and so precociously as a child myself. I remember reading The Giver and Bridge to Terabithia (both excellent, highly recommend them) in school when I was in year 6 (about 11), and I think it was around then that I started reading Heinlein, Asimov, Austen and the Brontes. I would already have read James Herriot and had definitely read Libby Purves’ How not to Raise a Perfect Child. (I broadly agreed with her advice, incidentally.)