Love Lesson

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Jacqueline Wilson ill. by Nick Sharratt
Oct 2005
Prudence and Grace are home-educated, by a fierce disciplinarian Dad. They are dressed by their wittering Mum, in clothes she runs up on a sewing machine using market remnants. Mum only knows one pattern, �demure little-girly dresses with short sleeves and swirly skirts�.

One of the vivid moments in this book comes when Wilson describes Prudence trying to wriggle out of one of her mum�s too-fitted creations in the midst of a girls� changing room, having to pull the dress up and over her head to get it off, leaving her inappropriate underwear exposed to all eyes.

Wilson does the minutiae of embarrassment so well you relive the incident with Prudence. It�s the bigger picture that is her weakness. You can�t quite believe the story because the overall scheme rings false.

Wilson has a template against which her fiction is drawn: awful adults, suffering out-of-kilter children. Every story is accommodated to this basic dress-making pattern. So, here, the two girls suffer in silence at home, until a heart-attack intervenes, which means they are sent to school and on to new sufferings. At school, Prudence becomes entangled with the young, hip art teacher, Rax.

Rax, worn-down at home by a wife struggling with two small children, is only too happy to be empathetic and endlessly patient with the kids getting the rough end of the stick at school.

The problem with the story is that to fit the template, all the other teachers have to be particularly stupid and unkind. To me, this didn�t sound like today�s teachers, but like the gorgons of an earlier age. Also, so much of the father-daughter stuff sounds wrong: why would such an unpleasant, child-hating man opt to spend the extra time with children that home-educating involves? How is it Prudence doesn�t have access to TV or computer, or even magazines other than the odd smuggled one, but she can summon up images like a vision of Rax against �an urban warehouse flat, large and airy and white, with huge canvases on the wall�?

But, with all that, this is of course, the usual, romping Wilson read, with a nice fairy tale ending, not too sugar-coated.

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This page contains a single entry by Dina Rabinovitch published on January 4, 2006 12:14 PM.

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