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    Why Were We All So Obsessed With Jacqueline Wilson Books?

    Don't Dustbin Baby, Lola Rose, and co feel like fever dreams?

    Welcome to Forgotten Faves, where we take you on a trip down memory lane and explore some of the things from our past that we used to LOVE, but are now a distant memory.

    Hanifah Rahman / BuzzFeed

    So, first stop: Jacqueline Wilson – the voice that shaped a generation.

    At the start of this year, Tracy Beaker returned to our screens and had us reminiscing about the good old days when catching up on the shenanigans at the Dumping Ground was top of our to-do lists. Sure, everyone loved Tracy Beaker, but while she may have been her most famous creation, Tracy was just the tip of the iceberg.

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    Whether they were picked up at the school book fair, borrowed from the local library, or passed around an entire friendship group until the cover disintegrated, Jacqueline Wilson novels were a staple for millions of curious kids, including me.

    Looking back as an adult, I’m slightly mystified that stories with such serious topics were so popular to the average noughties preteen. Beneath the camouflage of Nick Sharratt’s whimsical covers, there was some pretty dark stuff.

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    For obvious reasons, I recently had a bit more time on my hands, so I took it upon myself to revisit a few of the most dramatic and absorbing tales, and try and work out exactly what made these books so irresistibly addictive. Ready for a trip down memory lane? Brace yourself, it’s gonna be a pretty wild ride.

    This post contains discussions of domestic abuse, sudden death, suicide, mental illness, abandonment, and eating disorders.

    Lola Rose

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    Jayni’s beautiful, but slightly chaotic mum wins £10,000 on a scratch card, and she uses it to run away to London after Jayni’s terrifyingly violent dad turns on the kids. Inspired by one of the trendy models in her scrapbook, plain Jayni reinvents herself as the chic, grown-up Lola Rose. Her endearingly pathetic brother Kenny rather unimaginatively changes his name to Kendall and the three of them start a brand new metropolitan life in the city. Things are going pretty well for them, but as we know, £10k doesn’t go that far. When the money runs out, her mum’s new boyfriend clears off, which isn’t that surprising – he’s a 20-year-old art student who probably wasn’t keen on being a stepdad. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, her mum gets cancer. So many things are going on, and they’re all terrible, plus it doesn't help that she's constantly plagued by thoughts that are ominously named the Voice of Doom.

    I think the excitement at the idea of being able to totally transform yourself made us collectively overlook just how unforgivingly sad this story was. Second-hand anxiety wise, the plot of Lola Rose could give Uncut Gems a run for its money.


    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    An alternate title of this book could be How To Fail Your Kids In A Variety Of Different Ways, No Matter Who You Are. India’s a loner, forced to diet by her fashion designer mum while her dad’s having an affair with her au pair. Unaffectionately nicknamed “Indian elephant” by her mum, she binge eats in secret. 

Scrawny Treasure’s staying at her nan’s after her awful stepdad Terry wasn’t too impressed by her secret diary, the 'Official Terry Torture Manual', and struck her with his belt, but her mum wants her back home. She loves it at Nan’s, but she knows that things will get complicated with the social services once Nan’s boyfriend moves back in after he’s finished doing time for manslaughter (did you realise this as a kid?!). 

Two very different, but equally crappy situations. Treasure runs away from the estate, and just when things aren’t looking too good for her, India takes inspo from Anne Frank and hides Treasure in her attic, as you do.

    The girl’s story has a relatively happy ending, but it’s so frustrating that pretty much all the adults in this story are shamelessly awful.

    The Cat Mummy

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    Verity’s mum died when she was born and all she has to remember her by is her old cat, Mabel. She lives with her dad and grandparents, who are devoted and caring (read: kinda boring) but they never talk about her mum. Things are all very vanilla until Mabel goes missing, which happens to be at the exact same time that Verity’s learning about Ancient Egyptians in school. We all learned about mummies, it’s not hard to guess how the rest of the story goes.

    I feel like this one is very much overlooked among Jacqueline’s whole collection, but when you think about it, a kid embalming their dead cat is really quite disturbing.

    Dustbin Baby

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    If there was a bingo game for traumatic childhood tragedies, April would win. Where do I begin? She’s left in a bin by her birth mother, then adopted by some loving parents, but that doesn’t take long to fall apart. Her dad walks out, and her mum kills herself. She goes through a bunch of foster homes where she’s bullied AND becomes a pawn in a thieving gang. The whole story follows April revisiting all these dark moments from her childhood on a quest to track down the mother who abandoned her. If you’re a fan of neat, happy endings, this one probably wasn't your fave. This was a h e a v y read as an adult, so I'm kind of impressed (and a little scared) that this one made it into my childhood book rotation.  

    Vicky Angel

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    Vicky has strong main character energy while Jade's a bit of a sidekick. That is, until Vicky gets hit by a car and dies. Sure, that’s tragic by itself. But this is a Jacqueline Wilson book, so, not only does Jade see Vicky get hit, but it happens seconds after they have an argument. We’re not grieving for too long because a few paragraphs later, she comes back as a ghost. As you do. 

    Jade tries to come to terms with the death and move on, but it’s hard because she doesn’t seem to have much of an identity outside of Vicky, who isn’t about to let go so easily. 

Ghost Vicky takes Jade on a bunch of adventures, like going to Oxford Circus Topshop and having changing room fashion shows. Just your usual teenage girl stuff, except you know, one of them is dead. There’s a dark undercurrent throughout though – Jade’s plagued by guilt, can’t stop acting out, and Vicky keeps encouraging her to join her in ghost-world, if you know what I mean.

    It’s a really clever way of telling a story about the complexities of grief that was totally lost on child me – I just thought Ghost Vicky was kind of a bitch.

    The Illustrated Mum

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    Ah, where to start with this one. We have Dolphin, her big sister Star, and their mum Marigold, who often drinks, and also has bipolar disorder. Both girls are bullied because of their mum’s eccentricity and tattoos. Dolphin’s struggling with Dyslexia and getting pretty much no help with it, Star’s sick of her mum and is dating a much older guy, and Marigold’s out every night trying to track down a guy she had a one night stand with 13 years earlier (Star’s dad). Things are already a bit of a mess, but when Marigold has a mental breakdown, Dolphin and Star’s lives change forever.

    Obviously, we’re seeing this all from the eyes of Dolphin, who adores her mum and thinks Star’s a bit of a bitch. But as an adult, it’s clear from the start that Marigold needs support and Star’s tired of being the responsible one. The Illustrated Mum is a heartbreaking masterpiece and I need A24 to make an adaptation of it now.

    So, why were we all so obsessed with such serious tales?

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday

    My first thought was “maybe we’re all just a bit sadistic.” But as I revisited the novels with my adult eyes, it’s not hard to see why Jacqueline was the most borrowed children's author for 20 years.

    Thinking back to my primary school library, Jackie’s books stood out, and not just for their covers. Loads of the other books we read were full of fantasy lands, plots that defied logic, or exciting threats that we knew would get sorted out in the final chapter – all great for when we wanted some good old escapism. But Jacqueline’s books were perfect for when we wanted something real, even if that meant some of the topics weren’t so cheery.

    In pretty much every novel there are multiple "bad guys",  the parents are visibly flawed, and we barely ever end with a neatly wrapped happily ever after. Her stories seem to break all the rules for kids’ books – the topics of hushed conversations between adults are the main themes, which is part of what makes them so exciting.

    Each novel is so charmingly narrated that they rarely felt too serious or scary – every character is honest and authentic, so I guess we either related to them or felt like if they were real, they’d be our friend.

    Whether we'd faced similar situations to the characters in her novels or not, her novels gave us the chance to explore some of life’s most daunting emotions from a comfortable place, and I think that’s why her novels were so irresistible. What do you think?

    What was your favourite Jacqueline Wilson book? Tell us in the comments!

    Nick Sharratt / Penguin / Doubleday