Review Blog

Feb 02 2011

Lily Alone by Jacqueline Wilson

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Doubleday, 2011.
(Ages 10+) Recommended. The kids may love her, but I've heard the odd rumble of dissatisfaction among the adults about former laureate Jacqueline Wilson. Formulaic is a word sometimes bandied about and many of the adults I work with are downright derogatory, citing predictable storylines, a style that is too cosy and chatty and which never challenges readers out of their comfortable expectations. However, I admire Wilson and in a world of video games, Facebook, texting and television, the instant familiarity of the Jacqueline Wilson brand is the very reason children love her.
Without doubt Wilson has her finger on the 'tweenager' pulse. Here she is churning out terrifying realism with a touch of reassuring warmth that coaxes readers into believing everything really will be all right. Having said that Lily Alone is a nerve wracking, gut wrenching read about a feckless mother who leaves her four children alone while she swans off to Spain for a week with her new boyfriend. Of course she tells the father of two of the younger children to stay with them, but somehow it doesn't work out and it's down to eleven year old Lily to keep her family together and to feed and care for them until Mum decides to come home.
One of my Year 6 readers devoured this in a weekend and although she enjoyed it she was discomfited by the total absence of adult supervision. It's fine to be on your own on Kirrin Island or trying to defeat Lord Voldermort, but this is a grimy flat on a sink estate, with Lily having to wash the clothes in the bathtub and dry them by the gas fire. It's sorting out little sister, Pixie when she wets her knickers and trying to stop younger brother Baxter from annoying the big boys that skulk in the stairwell smoking and drinking. The whole novel has a nightmarish quality that I never experienced when reading The Illustrated Mum or The Bed and Breakfast Star because here at least adults were present, even if they were inadequate.
It is a credit to Wilson that she handles a harrowing subject in a kindly, comforting but realistic manner that reveals the resourcefulness of the four children and glosses over the criminally irresponsible mother. Let's hope the vast majority of children will experience Lily's fear and anguish vicariously and thankfully without the knowledge that an adult reader would bring to such a tale. Nevertheless, we worry about children growing up too soon and acquiring knowledge and awareness beyond their years and Jacqueline Wilson seems to be contributing to this trend. Right or wrong? It's a thorny debate and I'm sure everyone has an opinion!
Claire Larson.

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