Hey everyone, and welcome back to the blog! Today, I’m inspired by a opinion post on The Tab, where a girl reread a collection of Jacqueline Wilson books – and that’s what I’m going to do! If you aren’t aware, Wilson is a middle grade and young adult contemporary author, known for realist and often controversial dark themes. Her books were a staple of my childhood growing up, and I had a huge collection. When I was at my mum’s (all Covid secure), we found the books, and I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I bagged them up (a reuseable Sports Direct bag – got to save the planet), and took them home. I’ve been trying to space them out, so I don’t get burn out, but let’s go on a walk down memory lane! So without further ado, let’s begin, and fair warning, there may be spoilers.
The first book on this list is How to Survive Summer Camp. This follows Stella, who is sent to a summer camp after her mother remarries and jets off on her honeymoon… I read this for ScallywagAThon ’20, and found it a fun read. Stella is such a mixed bag of a character – she’s girly, whilst still having tomboy natures. She is able to talk to anyone, although often she can be disrespectful. Then again, she is of the age where children don’t mean to be cheeky, but do feel guilty about it. The plot is quite simple, and Stella goes on a journey to accept her flaws, challenge what she is used to, and grow as a person. I did feel there could have been more to this, and for that reason, I rated it 4 stars.
You knew it was going to be on this list – next up is The Story of Tracy Beaker. Tracy is in foster care, and begins to write all about her life, although it all could change if she meets the right foster parent… This was a reread that I was disappointed with. Tracy is very bossy, disrespectful, and while she is seen as a wild-child, she clearly has needs that need to be seen to. Tracy makes things all about her, and pushes for what she wants, even though those things may not be possible. I feel like the background characters could be fleshed out – I’d have loved to see more about Cam, and her background. There is some subtleties to this though – Tracy is convinced her mother is an actress, however, it is implied that she was been in adult movies. Tracy’s story does highlight teenage pregnancy and abuse, something that went way over my head as a child. That being said, I did love the TV show! In the end, I rated this 2 stars.
I then read The Suitcase Kid, which follows Andy as she splits her time between her divorced parents and their new families, although Andy wishes that things could go back to how they used to be… I think this really hits the spot for a lot of audiences. I spoke to my boyfriend about his time as a child of divorced parents, and how there were some similarities. Andy tries her best to be cheerful, however, she is clearly suffering from heartache. The plot is simple, jumping through the alphabet for each chapter. What I was surprised with most was the language though – there were some insults from parents that were not exactly a U or PG rating! I did find this very simplistic though, with little substance, and so rated this 2 stars.
The next book on this list is The Bed and Breakfast Star. This follows aspiring comedian Elsa and her family, as they lose their home, and have to stay at a bed and breakfast with other unfortunate families… This is quite heartbreaking when you really think about it. Elsa is trying to be the bright spark, finding joy where she can in a horrid situation. Her family are trying their best, whilst in contrast, the management of the hotel (and subsequently, the council and housing officers) just don’t seem to be bothered. With the climax of the book, it’s almost like a precursor to the Grenfell Tower disaster, which is awful. I’ve seen families in this situation, and I know how hard it is for them – it’s truly sad. I found there was a little more to this, and rated this 3 stars.
Next up is Double Act, which follows twins Ruby and Garnet. Ruby is loud, vivacious and has dreams of being an actress. Garnet is the total opposite – reserved and quiet. Soon their lives are turned upside down when their dad begins dating… This was a reread for me that was disappointing. Ruby is brash and throws her weight around way too much. Garnet is pushed to the side, and when she is finally given a chance to shine, Ruby cannot be happy for her. The plot is very similar to what people have experienced in real life – death of family members, the ever changing make-up of families, struggles with siblings, and finding independence. I did love the film adaptation though, and thought it was very faithful! In the end, I rated this 2 stars.
The next book I read was Bad Girls. Mandy is friendless and being bullied at school. It isn’t long before she strikes up a friendship with ultra cool Tanya, the foster girl, across the road. Mandy’s mother thinks Tanya’s a bad influence – could she be right? This has a lot of themes which occur quite frequently in Wilson’s books – bullying, foster care, independence, and learning disabilities. Mandy is coddled by her mother, which makes her an instant target for the mean girls at school. Tanya, meanwhile, is rough and ready – she is open about her mother’s suicide (which I was shocked to read about again), boys, her foster situation, and her love of Kurt Cobain (which hadn’t registered with me when I was young). Tanya’s street smarts get her in trouble though, as she often shoplifts, causing Mandy to worry. There’s a lot of emotional baggage – the bullying is hard to read because of my own experiences, and Tanya’s desire for a family and to be liked was so sad. At the same time, Tanya’s dyslexia is prominent, especially with the bittersweet ending. Whilst short and simplistic, I did enjoy this, and rated it 3 stars.
I then read The Lottie Project. It’s bad enough that Charlie’s new teacher won’t let her sit next to her friends, and is ultra strict, but to top it off, she has to do a project around the Victorians! How does her contemporary life contrast to that of a maid? This was one of my favourite books growing up, and I loved my reread. Charlie is sparky and fun, although she does have a wicked tongue that gets her in trouble. I liked her interactions with the other characters, and the very real struggles she faces with her mother, who is newly dating. Charlie grows as a character, and as does her love of baking – this was a real joy to see! Charlie’s school project is whimsical and factual, and is a good comparison to the contemporary moments. This was so good, and I rated this 4 stars.
The next book was one of my favourites, and that’s The Illustrated Mum. This follows Dolphin, a young girl, who thinks her tattooed mother, Marigold, is amazing. Star, Dolphin’s older sister, thinks Marigold needs to pull herself together, and act like a proper mum… This was another reread that I loved. I think this is a really powerful book, as it deals with being a young carer, bullying, dyslexia, foster care, and more importantly, the struggles of mental health. Dolphin looks for the brightness in life, whereas Star’s optimism has waned. Marigold suffers with alcoholism, manic depression, and it’s later implied bipolar disorder – this is all key in her behaviours, from the need to be tattooed, fixating on old romances, to the overwhelming baking, and most notably, the painting of herself. This is such an important book that highlights so much, and I highly recommend it, even though it can be difficult to read at times – there is so much stigma that needs to be erased. I think the film adaptation is quite faithful, and I really enjoyed that too. I rated this 5 stars.
I then read The Dare Game, which is the continuing adventure of Tracy Beaker. Tracy is struggling adapting to life with her foster mother, Cam. Out of the blue, she gets the chance to see her birth mum again, which sends Tracy on an emotional journey… This was a reread I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would. Yet again, Tracy comes across as arrogant and bossy. Whilst I can understand her struggles to be independent, to be liked, and her needs that she fears aren’t being met, there is something that’s just meh. The background characters could be fleshed out as again, I wanted more from Cam! While Cam is caring, Tracy’s mother is quite brash – she showers Tracy with gifts to make her love her, and shows that she will never take her child seriously. This is yet again a tough book as it does show teenage pregnancy and the struggles those people face. It’s still unsure if Tracy’s mother was an adult film actress, but she clearly enjoys going out drinking and meeting men. This was disappointing, and I just wish there was more to this – this could have been so much more, dealing with the foster system and broadening Tracy as a character. In the end, I rated this 2 stars.
The next book I read was Vicky Angel. Jade has always lived in the shadow of her best friend. When a tragic accident occurs and the confident and loud Vicky passes away, Jade can’t believe it. Vicky isn’t about to let a little thing like being dead stop her though… I was disappointed with this reread. Whilst it does tackle friendships, toxic personalities and grief in a very relatable way, I found the character of Vicky to be awful and overbearing. I found that the plot seemed very rushed, and even though this is a short novel, I felt like there could be more to build on, such as the background characters of Jade’s parents and their own problems. In the end, I rated this 2 stars.
I then picked up Biscuit Barrell, which collects the books, Cliffhanger and Buried Alive! These follow Tim, a young boy, who struggles to be daring and adventurous… I thought this was a relatively light read. With the central character being a boy, this feels like a huge change of pace. The characters are bright and they are likeable. This being said, I do find it quite average, as it’s a little like those stories you were asked to write in school: “what I did on my summer holidays”. In the end, I rated this 3 stars.
The final book I read for this part was Dustbin Baby. April is turning fourteen, although a short portion of her early life was spent in a dustbin, abandoned by her birth mother. After an argument with her foster mother ends in anger and tears, April goes off to search for the woman who abandoned her… This book deals heavily with adoption and fostering, abandonment, bullying, and maternal bonds. It’s also about growing up, and finding who you truly are. The book is dark in terms of older characters dealing with depression and suicide, as well. This being said, I did DNF this. It’s a very short book, and I never enjoyed it as a kid. I didn’t enjoy it now – something about it wasn’t right for me. It’s a sad story, and a sad note to end this post on.
So that completes part one of this Wilson-a-thon! It’s taken a while, but I hope it’s been as fun for you, as it has been for me! I’m already working on part two! Did you read any of Wilson’s books growing up? I’d love to hear your thoughts!