I’ve read nearly everything Jacqueline Wilson has written and, as I’ve said before, I prefer the books she writes about modern children with modern problems to her Victorian series. Clover Moon is set in vague ‘Victorian times’. Clover lives in Hoxton with her father, sister, stepmother and a horde of half-brothers and sisters. Even though her father is in work, the family is desperately poor and the children looked down on as ‘street children’: dirty, ragged and always playing in the alley. They don’t go to school. Stepmother Mildred treats Clover like a skivvy and childminder and beats her so badly that the neighbours notice. In spite of this, Clover remains feisty and optimistic, dreaming of a better future. She has a friend, a hunchbacked old doll maker who teaches her to read and write or, as Mildred would have it, ‘get above her station’. It’s the sauce factory for Clover as soon as she’s old enough to work there.
How she escapes this fate by running away and finding a better life makes for an engrossing read, if an unlikely story. It’s interesting to compare this book with Victorian morality tales like those by Mrs O F Walton which also deal with ‘poor children’ and how they can be rescued. In Mrs Walton’s world, religion plays a great part in the redemption of her characters, an option Wilson would reject. Part of the problem I had with this book is the first person narrative. It reads as though a nine year old girl had been told the story and asked to put it in her own words. That’s how anachronisms like ‘she disrespects me all the time’ creep in. It irritates me, but perhaps not the children the book is intended for.
At the end of the book there is a section about the history of child protection laws in Britain and advice on how to contact Childline if necessary. Very good. Not good is a page called ‘About the Victorians’. This is historically inaccurate, appallingly simplistic and didactically imposes on children opinions about things they can know nothing about.
Another triumph for Jacqueline Wilson, because of course the book is compulsively readable and will be an instant bestseller. But I stick by my reservations and wish that Dame Jacky would write more books like Double Act, one of my favourites.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
Lots of other Jacqueline Wilson reviews here.