The Illustrated Mum
By Jacqueline Wilson
Illustrated by Nick Sharratt
Distributed by Transworld
The Illustrated Mum more than lives up to the expectations of the many Jacqueline Wilson readers eagerly waiting for her new book. It has all the qualities of her previous successes - the observant first-person child narrative; the resourceful heroines; the fragile family structure; the importance of hope; and the difficulties of children who have to manage then own lives. It has some of the familiar jaunty telling of The Suitcase Kid and The Bed and Breakfast Star, but it is also a far darker book, tackling an even tougher version of childhood.
Marigold, the highly tattooed "illustrated mum of the title, is different. Her daughters, Star and Dol, know that, and for years they have made themselves believe that their strange life with her is special, rather than mad which they really know it is.
But now Star has grown out of the make-believe. She wants to be conventional and, above all, she wants to be rid of the responsibility for an irresponsible parent.
Dol, younger and less bright, struggles to keep up some illusions about her mother, but, when Star finds a way out through a new life with her father, Dol's best efforts are not enough. Marigold covers herself in white paint to obscure the tattoos in a wild attempt to be "normal and even Dol realises that she needs help. And so she does, for it turns out that Marigold is manic depressive.
Social services, medical services and Star and Dol's different fathers step in. There is no happy resolution - only a new way forward for two girls who, like many other children, have never known what is conventionally thought of as "childhood. And all this without either preaching about how society should be, or apportioning blame to any of the adults around whom this has happened. Jacqueline Wilson's brand of naive narrative prevents her books from being mawkish or sentimental. Instead, they are disturbingly perceptive and provocative.
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