Saturday, December 11, 2004

Lola Rose

Children are resilient.

How many times have we heard this? As trite as it sounds, I know this to be true and, in this book, the author heartily assents. Fairy tales today seem to enlighten but not to frighten children; however, perhaps the sanitized versions no longer impart the kind of insight that is found in Jacqueline Wilson's Lola Rose.

The reader might well label this book an "Anti-Fairy Tale": the pre-teen narrator has many responsibilities and ugly realities with which to deal and she does so with the heartrending acceptance and grace so characteristic of abused children.

When life at home suddenly gets really frightening, Jayni, her mum and her little brother Kenny have to pack their bags and escape in the middle of the night. They also have to choose new names -- and so Jayni becomes the glamorous, grown-up Lola Rose!


As another element of instability enters Jayni's already tumultuous life, we watch a young girl as she struggles with identity, body image and the responsibilities of raising a younger sibling as well as herself. Her journey is more than that of self-discovery: it is about learning such harsh realities as injustice, dread fear and addiction in a seemingly impersonal world.

As the pressures mount at home and her mother's behaviour becomes more disappointingly predictable, Jayni cannot concentrate at school--even in her new life, everything new is old again--and she must find a way to cope that will not result in the destruction of her family unit.

For the older child, this book has so much to offer by way of illustrating certain universal conditions: the need for acceptance, peer pressures and issues of identity. Most importantly, for a child who has always worried about not having "normal" parents, this book brings comfort and reassurance.

For the child who has not had her childhood yanked away, it brings enlightenment and, probably, an appreciation of her family life as she knows it. It also aids in developing personal identity. We often define ourselves through the negative: "this" is "not me". I am confident that many readers--teenage and adult alike--will declare this throughout the book.

For the adult reader, the book is a humbling experience. In Jayni The Child we find the adult that we would like to become: insightful, strong through adversity and wise, very wise.

In the end, we want more for Jayni but she is much stronger and wiser than we: she knew all along what to expect about her circumstances; she has inhabited no fairy tale.

So, it is we who have grown. She has taught us that sometimes hope is not the strong, faithful night-light in the dark hours that we all would like; it is sometimes as brief and as fleeting as a firefly, but it can be just as stunning and powerful wherever it appears.

Don't be put off by the harsh subject matter: there is wit and humour enough to sustain even a casual reader from page to page. As trite as it sounds, trust me: you'll laugh and you'll cry and you'll want to read another Jacqueline Wilson book right away.

***


Here is The Guardian's Review

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