You may remember that a while ago I set myself the challenge of reading every Jacqueline Wilson book that had been published since my birth, as some sort of weird semi-midlife crisis. I was all set to start, but then other books happened. And I got a little carried away with life. But finally, this week, I picked up one of my favourite ever Jacqueline Wilson books, The Illustrated Mum.
So, the story in a nutshell, follows Dolphin (yep, that’s her name…), and her sister Star (which is a name that doesn’t actually seem that bizarre in comparison to some children I’ve met…) who live with their mother Marigold who is clearly suffering from some sort of manic depression throughout the story. Star’s Dad Micky comes on to the scene and whisks Star (who is the parental figure to both Dolphin and her mum, Marigold) away, leaving Dolphin dealing her poorly mum as well as school bullies and trying to look after herself, despite being only 11.
There are some really dark points in this book that I hadn’t noticed, or fully appreciated as a child. For example, Marigold steals, or at least has in the past stolen, some credit cards. Also, Dolphin shows some traits of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – presumably the only way she can find control in her life.
It was also quite difficult to read as my Mum suffered with depression when I was a child, so some parts were particularly relatable (although thankfully not all!). In fact, I think it was a frighteningly real portrayal of a parent who is suffering with their mental health and a very brave, but important, risk to take for a children’s book. Spoiler alert: There is no dramatic “happy ending”, where everything is suddenly okay again, and I personally appreciated that. It’s not how life works and although the ending is upbeat and optimistic, it’s also realistic and doesn’t patronise the children reading the book. I think that’s so important.
There was a moment, when Oliver and Dolphin call up a leisure centre and just so happen to manage to get in touch with Dolphin’s Dad, who she has never met, which did feel a bit too easy and very unrealistic. Aside from that, it was easy to forget that I was reading a book that is intended for children, such is Wilson’s writing. It really is a timeless book that I absolutely loved re-reading and I’m excited to start the next one already!
What’s your favourite Jacqueline Wilson book?