Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Three kids' books

So I was looking over my list of reviews I need to write and realized that I have twenty items on it spanning a full twelve months. Oops. So I'm making a start on the backlog by writing about three YA novels I've read in odd moments when I was supposed to be doing something else and so didn't want to risk displacing with a long novel.

I read Mrs Doubtfire in odd snatches in between pre-Passover cleaning in April. I like Anne Fine, her kids' stuff particularly (her adult novels are well written as far as they go, but unmemorable). Anyway, Mrs Doubtfire is a bit on the silly side compared to some of hers, but still a fun read. The children's point of view is absolutely spot-on; that I think is Fine's real strength: she writes children who are real people but not simply small adults. While it's a lighthearted and rather funny comedy, the happy ending stops short of being overly sentimental, and if you can accept the initial disguise premise it all hangs together as a fairly plausible story.

The guilty party was light relief in July when I was in the middle of A suitable boy; there were times when I was not quite in the mood for such a dense and slow-moving piece, however delightful. I enjoyed it, but at times it felt as if the genre and YA packaging overwhelmed the content. It's published by Penguin under their 'Issues' label and it really is stuffed with Issues that are Important to Teenagers Today. Its theme of anti-nuclear protest makes its 80s publication date all too obvious. That said, Lingard's characterization is stunning, as ever; Josie is absolutely exasperating but very likeable, and reminds me of people I've come across, mentioning no brothers. Lingard handles the Issues in a gentle way, avoiding the trap of providing the Right Answer, so that it doesn't come across as worthy or preachy in the way a lot of those sort of books can. And the Northern Ireland stuff, which is very much her pet theme, is rather in the background in tGP, mainly because the action actually takes place after the heroine has emigrated to England.

The illustrated Mum, which I read today, is absolutely brilliant. I'm a huge fan of Jacqueline Wilson; she's really tapped into the niche of readers who are too old for children's books but not old enough or don't have the reading stamina for the typical YA fare, but irrespective of her target readership she writes incredibly well. And TIM is outstanding even compared to Wilson's generally high standard. It's touching without being sentimental, and covers some pretty serious issues (alcoholism, mental illness and hinted but not actually described child abuse) but it's thoroughly a story, not a Discussion of Issues (see above!)

Dol works really well as the ordinary little girl thrown into an adventure, but this adventure doesn't involve fighting monsters, rather dealing with her mother's breakdown. There's plenty of loyalty and courage and other such heroic virtues, but in a totally realistic context. The language of TIM is very simple, but the ideas certainly aren't. The book is kind to all its characters and just presents their actions without being at all judgemental, creating a strong impression of a morally complex situation. And Dol doesn't magically triumph over the odds; she achieves a lot considering that she's a ten-year-old against the whole of society, but the upbeat ending is nonetheless far from happily-ever-after. In short, TIM is one of the best books I've read in a while.

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