Tag Archives: Jacqueline Wilson

Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson

Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson

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.

Blurbed
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.)

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Bad Girls by Jacqueline Wilson

Bad Girls by Jacqueline Wilson

At #117 Bad Girls is the 13th Jacqueline Wilson novel I’ve read for this challenge, and I think it’s too many. They’re all starting to blur together, and the tears and traumas in this one just felt too familiar.

Mandy is the opposite of a bad girl. Small and dressed in frilly frocks, she looks closer to 7 than her actual age of 10. Since her best friend joined Kim’s clique, Mandy has been the target of all their taunts. She’s lonely until she meets Tanya. At 14, in foster care and separated from her younger siblings, Tanya is happy to have someone to care for. But bad habits are hard to break.

Have I read this book before?
Wilson’s strength is the natural way that she combines issues (foster care, absent parents, shop lifting, bullying) with a plot that children can relate to. Bad Girls is, objectively, a good book. It isn’t preachy, and shows that there can be complicated responses to issues. It never labels the ‘bad girls’ of the title, and juxtaposes two different sorts of ‘badness’ in a way that might make people think, or perhaps be unconsciously less judgmental. So it’s good, and I recommend it.

I did like the emphasis on creativity, particularly drawing and writing, in the story. The rainbow theme helped me notice how much time Wilson’s characters spend making stuff. It’s not just in this novel. Her characters are constantly making things, drawing pictures, dreaming and living in their imagination. It makes drawing, writing, art, dance and similar seem really accessible and achievable. I think it would be encouraging and inspiring, if I were 10.

Have I read this book before?
That said, I feel like I’ve read this book before. The chapters have a gimicky theme (colours of the rainbow this time), the characters all feel familiar. Tanya and the foster family she’s staying with are even in Dustbin Baby, so it’s more than a generic likeness. I struggled to work up any enthusiasm for the novel, and feel like I can’t give a clear review.

Broadly, I think this is a good book for kids age about 10. As with all Wilson’s books, there are challenging issues addressed, so some parents might want to read through it ahead of time. It only took me an hour, so that shouldn’t be much of a chore.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson

This is the 12th Jacqueline Wilson novel I’ve read for the challenge, and I usually like them a lot.  I found #110 The Illustrated Mum to be disappointing although that said, Wilson is very good at what she does, and this is still a good book – it’s just not my favourite.

The Illustrated Mum tells the story of Dolphin, age about 10, who lives with her older sister, Star, and their mum, Marigold. Marigold isn’t an attentive or stable parent – she can’t hold down a job, goes out for one drink and doesn’t come home until morning and has black and manic moods. Throughout the book, both Star and Dolphin struggle with what to tell outsiders and what to hide.

The words
Marigold stands out not just because of her wild behaviour, but because she has a lot of tattoos. It’s the theme of the book – each chapter is named after and based around a different tattoo. Marigold is described as:

a red-haired woman in halter top and shorts her white skin vividly tattooed, designs on her arms, her shoulders, her thighs, one ankle, even her foot.

It’s a fabulous picture but definitely out of the ordinary – you can see why Star, who is trying very hard to fit in at the high school, gets embarrassed by having a mum who is different, who stands out so much.

I had two problems with the tattoos. The first is thanks to the introduction, where Wilson explains that she had seen a woman with fabulous tattoos and two small girls, and based the character of Marigold on her. That gave a sour taste to the book for me, as though Wilson looked at the woman and assumed, because of the tattoos, that she couldn’t be happy or balanced. It’s perhaps unfair as Wilson’s books tend to follow this pattern, and the subjects in the book have come up before –  it’s quite a lot like Lola Rose in some ways, for example – so it’s not that Marigold is her only tattooed lady and also her only bad mother: there are a lot of struggling or outright abusive parents in Wilson’s work. But Marigold, as a woman with several tattoos, is rare in literature and I was disappointed that Wilson had made her tattoos a symptom of her problems, rather than – for example – a creative celebration.

The pictures
The other disappointment was also tattoo related. The Illustrated Mum is illustrated by Nick Sharratt, who is very good. I’ve mentioned his work for Wilson’s books in Double Act and he’s done several other Wilson novels, and the pictures definitely add something to the story, expanding the experience. 

The problem I have with this book that in the pictures which show a full body portrait of Marigold there aren’t enough tattoos. The only ones drawn are those explicitly mentioned in the book, and while that amounts to at least ten, there’s something off about the coverage in the picture. The tattoos are all drawn so separately, with no particular thought to how they work together, and look small and sparse on her skin. Marigold is described as a great tattoo designer, as ‘covered from head to foot with glorious tattoos’, and this just seems off. I was expecting something more like this where the tattoos work together more, and are brighter, or perhaps the full-body coverage like in this picture.

Combined, the two disappointments seemed to diminish Marigold. She doesn’t come across as a well-rounded character like her daughters, the other characters in the novel like Oliver, Micky or Michael, or the mother in Lola Rose. Marigold is her tattoos and her craziness, and that’s it.

While I was disappointed, the book is still a good read. Wilson has a talent for writing tough stories which I wouldn’t hesitate to give to a child. It’s a book for older readers – probably children Dolphin’s age, which is 10, or above. The language is straightforward but the themes are complex and might warrant discussion, depending on the child. Star in particular is in a very vulnerable position, and does not make the best decisions – I’d suggest an adult read the book carefully before giving it to a teen girl who craves nice things. All in all, I do recommend The Illustrated Mum, just not as whole heartedly as the other Jacqueline Wilson books I’ve read.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson

Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson

Another Jacqueline Wilson, #80 Double Act tells the story of twin girls, Ruby and Garnet, who although they’re identical on the outside are rather different on the inside. The girls’ lives are changing rapidly: their father has a new partner and it means upheaval all round. With a new school, new town and new family, the twins need to decide whether to fight to remain the same or let themselves be different.

I really enjoyed the book, finding it a light, quick read. Like all Wilson’s books, this one is grounded in the real world and sad stuff does happen, but it’s not one of her deep, issues-heavy books. It’s probably appropriate for kids starting to read on their own or reading confidently alone.

Who do you want to be?
The twins are too young for this to be a coming of age novel, but they do face the same questions which are central to books like Catcher in the Rye: ‘who am I?’ and ‘who do I want to be?’. Being twins has burdened them with a certain set of expectations, and their strengths can also become their weaknesses: as they’re seem as a unit by the outside world (even their father and grandmother often treat them as one) they’re very attached to each other, but also struggle to form other friendships without betraying their bond.

The struggle between togetherness and separateness is ongoing as people grow and change, and I imagine most people will have some experience of it, whether it’s parent and child, an absorbing friendship or an intense romance. Wilson is writing about a particular form, and the story is aimed at young children, but honestly, you could rewrite it with people of any age and it would work well.

Illustration quirk
According to the introduction, the illustrations were drawn by two artists (Nick Sharratt and Sue Heap) who each drew one of the twins. I was surprised, honestly, as even with this tip off I couldn’t tell which artist had drawn which twin or who had done the rest of the images. It’s a neat analogy for the central issue in the story: although the pictures may look alike, they’re from quite separate sources.

Reading Roald Dahl and Jacqueline Wilson books reminded me how much I enjoy good illustrations. They really add something to a book, particularly when the subject is unfamiliar. For example, I enjoyed the film of The Devil Wears Prada much more than the book as I couldn’t picture the clothes so had no idea if the author was talking someone up or down, if they looked good or a hot mess, and so on.

The illustrations in Double Act round the story out, showing us things the twins won’t tell us explicitly and giving less confident readers another way into the story.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and am happy to recommend it.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson

Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson tackles several big issues in #121 Lola Rose, and does it with aplomb, as usual. I definitely recommend the book.

Running away from her abusive father, Jayni, her mother and little brother take on new names and new identities. However, even as Lola Rose Jayni finds that life hasn’t changed much and when her mother gets cancer it seems like her father will soon be back in their lives.

Spoiler alert
When writing reviews, I try to avoid giving out any spoilers or plot information which isn’t on the cover (front or back) or in the first chapter or so. One of the interesting things about Wilson’s books is that the summaries are often include spoilers – like the mention of cancer, above – for quite far into the books. I imagine this is so that responsible adults will be able to tell at a glance what kids are reading and be ready to field difficult questions.

In this specific case, I think it’s a good idea as Wilson’s books (I’m discovering) nearly always touch on serious subjects. In general, I have mixed views – on the one hand, I would quite like warnings on books so I can avoid wasting my money and time but I hate spoilers and am well aware that the warnings I’d like are implausible (“in the future, women will be in the kitchen” “space: white people only” “really badly written” “has not been copy edited”).

My favourite hero
Jayni / Lola Rose has it rough, and I was impressed throughout with how practical, sensible and brave she was. The character seemed entirely plausible, reminding me of certain friends I had at school, and I think she provides an excellent role model. I’m happy to conclude my week of heroics with a whole-hearted recommendation: this is what I think heroism is: doing what’s right as best you can, even when you’re scared or broke or small or powerless. Even when you can’t win.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson

Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson

When Jade’s best friend is killed in a car accident, everyone assumes that she’s gone for good – but Jade knows Vicky is still around. #86 Vicky Angel is a story for older children and teens and deals with grief, loss and living through it.

Sound advice
I do bang on about it a bit, but one of the things I really appreciate about Wilson’s novels is that the solutions her characters find to their problems are reasonable, realistic and age-appropriate. Vicky Angel is no exception and even though Jade is dealing with a manifest ghost, her grief and her coping mechanisms might well help someone dealing with a less supernatural loss.

The ghost story allows Wilson to show both sides of the situation – while Jade has lost a friend, Vicky has lost a lot more, and can no longer be part of their old life. Their friendship has to stretch and change as they both learn to cope with the new situation.

Learning to be a hero
Jade is used to living in bubbly, dramatic Vicky’s shadow, so she’s not that surprised that Vicky is still in control as a ghost. Although Jade is the narrator and survivor, she isn’t the title character, and it’s not clear at the beginning if she’s the main character or simply trailing along in Vicky’s story. More importantly, it’s not clear that Jade knows that she’s the main character in her own life until she has to learn to live without her more out-going friend.

As audiences we’re accustomed to stories being about heroes, and as we expect the main character in any production to be the hero, we give them more leeway than the villains get (my pet example is Die Hard where the ‘hero’ kills far more people than the ‘terrorist’). In real life, we all star in our own lives so picking out the heroes and villains is harder. Wilson cleverly manages the tropes and expectations which come with her medium to explore the gap between the two views and after finishing the novel, I found myself wondering who the main character – the real hero – is: Jade or Vicky?

And then, of course, I realised that’s a trope too – who says you can only have one hero?

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Girls in Tears by Jacqueline Wilson

Girls in Tears by Jacqueline Wilson

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

The final book in this series, #139 Girls in Tears follows on from Girls in Love, Girls under Pressure (not on the Big Read list) and Girls out Late. It’s probably the first book in the series which really requires you to have read the previous one.

A worthwhile read
As with the other two books in this series, I didn’t particularly enjoy it but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the other books and believe it’s a good book for teenagers to read.

Wilson seems very much aware that she is writing for a younger audience, for readers who are still forming their opinions on love, sex, friendship and big abstract concepts like fairness, justice and tolerance. Her novels are great stories and also provide examples of good behaviour in the face of bad situations. Characters do things like dumping a date who is pressuring them to have sex before they’re ready, making sure a friend is safe when meeting someone they met online and so on.

The books aren’t at all preachy, but the situations they model are very true to life, and the ‘heroic’ behaviour seems well withing one’s reach.

On the list
Girls in Tears was published in 2002, so it’s impressively high up the list. It also marks my ninth Wilson novel read for this challenge, out of 14 in total. I don’t think that this is a particularly brilliant book, but I can see why it’s popular as it focuses on quite ordinary troubles which many teens will be able to sympathize with. I’ve certainly encountered many of them myself, although perhaps not in year nine!

Each book in the series has a particular focus and shows it from at least three different angles as Ellie, Magda and Nadine are very different and approach each situation in different ways. In Girls in Tears, however, the drama is focused on the relationship between the three girls, and the pressures which their love-lives and outside interested put on the friendship. (That’s a rather po-faced way of describing it, but it’s hard to be more specific without spoilering at least one of the books.) it’s a fitting end for the series – although, honestly, I think Wilson could have taken them all the way up to university, and kids would have continued to enjoy the developing characters and challenges.

Girls out Late by Jacqueline Wilson

Girls out Late by Jacqueline Wilson

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Only three out of the four books in this series are on the list, so I skipped over Girls under Pressure and went straight to #167 Girls out Late. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, Girls in Love, the series is not really to my taste, and that didn’t change with this next book.

Teenagers being teenagers
Wilson’s genius is that she brings children and their problems to life in a totally believable way. The downside for me is that now the heady hormone-fueled days are past I don’t have much patience for complex solutions to problems which quite often seem like ones which could be resolved by just talking it out sensibly. Of course, I remember enough of my own teen years – never mind more recent interactions with drama-aficandos – to realise that’s rarely possible or desired.

Parents being parents
Out Late shifts the focus to boundaries drawn by adults, and explores when they’re reasonable or not. I may be over thinking it, but I do like the fact that parents are shown to be wrong and unreasonable sometimes – they are only human after all – and so are the teenagers – ditto. I feel like the book might give both sides a glimpse into how the other half lives and what they worry about.

This is a book set in a very real world and dealing with problems which most teens will recognise. I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book.

Girls in Love by Jacqueline Wilson

Girls in Love by Jacqueline Wilson

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

I really felt too old for #59 Girls in Love when I was reading it – but then I think I may have felt too old for it when I was thirteen, like the girls in the book are.

Junior soap opera
Girls in Love introduces us to Ellie (our narrator), Magda and Nadine, three best friends in year nine. This is the first book in the series and it traces their tangled first romances.

The problems they face are mostly fairly sweet and light (with one notable exception which is handled with Wilson’s usual aplomb) and, like in the soaps, the drama comes from how tangled the characters can get by lying at the wrong moment, snogging the wrong guy and so on. Frankly, I don’t have much patience for the sort of plot tangle which could be sorted out by people just talking to each other either in fiction or real life, so it’s not the book for me.

Still a good book
While it’s not to my personal taste, I can imagine people enjoying this book – particularly young teens whose first relationship (holding hands! with a boy!) is still in the future. The novels – and this is the first in a series – map out what a decent relationship is by showing the characters dealing with nice guys and less savory ones, and on that basis alone I’ve got to rate it fairly highly – so many romance novels aimed at teens idealise highly dysfunctional (Twighlight, anyone?) or abusive (Wuthering Heights, e.g.) relationships that I’m glad to see one which isn’t.

The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson

The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

For younger readers, #181 The Suitcase Kid deals with a common family drama. Andy’s parents have split up and they’ve both created new families – leaving her shuttling back and forth between the two houses, feeling like a fifth wheel.

A friend in need
I don’t think anyone has ever suggested that divorce is easy for kids and I think that this book would be a friendly, comforting read for kids going through the process. Wilson handles the subject matter with her trademark tact, empathy and consideration – the Happily Ever After she proposes is totally plausible, and offers an alternative to the fantasy that a broken marriage can be put back together, just as it was.

Writing with style
Wilson has an apparently effortless, almost invisible writing style which helps me get so absorbed in the world that I rarely notice her technique. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, and the fact that I don’t notice the writing is a sign that she’s very good at what she does.

In The Suitcase Kid, each chapter title starts with a different letter of the alphabet, in order. It’s a little thing – something I imagine she did for her own amusement – but it reminded me to look out for her technique and I’m impressed. The Suitcase Kid is clearly aimed at a younger audience than Dustbin Baby but I couldn’t tell you why I think that – the language is clear without being colourless and simple without being simplistic, but that’s true of her other novels. All I can say is that the narrator – Andy – just sounds younger. And as I don’t spend that much time around kids, and struggle to guess their ages in person, I can’t help but – as I mentioned earlier – be impressed.