Thursday, 21 March 2013

Love Lessons by Jacqueline Wilson

Publication date: 1st June 2006
Published by: Corgi Childrens
Genre: Contemporary (Pre-teen/YA)

NB: Spoiler alerts appear in this text (sorry it was unavoidable).

Book covers like this one put me off.  I don’t like them because they scream ‘Hey little girlie, you know you want me.  How could you not?  After all, I’m pink and I’ve got a big red heart. Buy me!’  However, Jacqueline Wilson is an author who is well regarded and despite never having read any of her books I was interested in the subject – teacher/pupil relationship – and I wanted to see how she tackled it.

I am not sure what age the book is meant to be for.  The subject matter suggests young adult but it reads as though it is for the under 12s.  (I suspect teenagers would find it somewhat patronising and in parts eye-rollingly ridiculous.)

I would divide this novel into 2 parts with the distribution of those parts at 60:40.  The first 60% is about Prue, her family life and how she comes to be stuck in a school she hates (and quite rightly so under the circumstances).  The last 40% focuses on her relationship with her art teacher, Rax, who she falls in love with. 

I can see the point of the first part as it is Prue’s backstory and it clarifies why she is the way she is and how she came to behave the way she did.  All that was fine but there was too much of it.  The book was supposed to be about her relationship with her teacher and there wasn’t enough of that.

Also, I can appreciate that there are probably parents like Prue’s that exist in the real world but I found the whole situation too extreme – verging on the ridiculous.  I am not keen on novels that exaggerate characters because instead of being realistic they are like caricatures, which only work in comedic situations as far as I am concerned. In the same way scenarios become too animated.  

Spoiler Alert: I was okay with the portrayal of the father, but the mother?  Would she really think it acceptable in the 21st century to dress her 11 and 14 year old in homemade dolly style dresses?  Second hand stuff from charity shops would have been more realistic and just as effective, surely.  And the sister Grace who is somewhat overweight - would she really not only be happy to be referred to by her school friends as ‘Piggy’ but be the one to suggest it? And the school girls – would they really pick on another girl because she deigns to wear sexy underwear, calling her a slag and referring to Ann Summers as a sleazy shop to be avoided?  If they were in a prissy convent school in the 1950s, maybe.  And Tobie – would he really react to an erotic novel in that way?  Next she’ll be suggesting he’s never heard of NUTs magazine.  And how is it the teachers all stood by and watched as practically every pupil who came into contact with Prue insulted and bullied her – even Rax!  Like it’s perfectly acceptable behaviour!

What I think Wilson did well – very well – was the relationship between Rax and Prue, when we finally get to it.  I found it realistic and could see how things could play out exactly as they did. 

Spoiler Alert: Rax steps closely to the line, and yes he crosses it.  I was convinced that he genuinely fell for Prue, but his behaviour was neither pervy nor predatory nor was he manipulative (as is the case with the teacher in other books of a similar theme).  I am not condoning his actions but I can see he was torn between his feelings for her and doing the right thing and sometimes this caused him to make the wrong choices.

Some have criticized Wilson, accusing her of being irresponsible for portraying the relationship as she did.  I disagree. After all, things do not bode well for Prue – not at all – to the point that it leaves a nasty after-taste (for me anyway).  Of course time is a healer and she would move on eventually, just like Rax said, but not before suffering a great deal first. If anything it is like she is saying to girls, if you do this, this is what will happen – which I think is pretty responsible.  Unfortunately I think there is a danger for the message to be misinterpreted as the complete opposite and therefore lost.  

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