Reviewed for Children: Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson
Eleven is a frustrating age for a proficient reader. You’re too old for fairy tales, too young for YA-literature, and you can’t find a book that takes more than a couple of hours to read. Your mother (that’s me) thrusts beautiful, cloth-bound classics into your hands but, lovely as they may be, you crave a book that’s meaty and entertaining and new (as opposed to old, like your mother).
I know all this because my eleven-year-old daughter never tires of telling me so. This is why we are both so grateful to Jacqueline Wilson. As of this week, Wilson has 23 books on our shelves, has inspired my daughter and her friends to start a book club, and has even inspired them, after reading The Butterfly Club, to plant their own butterfly garden.
Jacqueline Wilson has sold more than 40 million books in the UK alone. She was the most borrowed author from British libraries from 2002 until 2008, when she was overtaken by James Patterson. She succeeded Michael Morpurgo as Children’s Laureate to the United Kingdom in 2005. Wilson is the author of more than 100 books for children of all ages but her talent is creating pitch-perfect, absorbing fiction for the 9 to 12-year-old gap. Titles include the immensely popular Tracy Beaker series, set in a contemporary care home for children and adapted as a children's TV series by the BBC.
My daughter is particularly fond of Wilson’s historical adventures, including the Hetty Feather series. The author rewards loyal fans by creating guest appearances by the characters from one story in another book. This clever trick means that the books can stand alone but, taken together, create a rich fictional world to get lost in with each book adding a layer of depth and interest.
Clover Moon, Wilson's latest release, is another historical drama set in Victorian London. Clover is quickly established as a credible and feisty heroine. She is the sort of girl who would steal a book of nursery rhymes from a market stall or invent a thrilling game of pirate ships using the neighbour’s freshly laundered sheets. Clover uses these tactics, along with her wit and empathy, to teach and entertain her own six siblings and the motley crew of street children who seem to be abandoned to her care.
Life was no bed of roses for Victorian children and Wilson doesn’t pull her punches. She has maintained a determination to write honestly and bravely about issues affecting children, whether it is adoption, divorce or child abuse. It is this honesty that gives Wilson credibility and keeps smart, truth-hungry readers coming back for more. Wilson’s tremendous skill is evident in keeping the realism age-appropriate.
I found myself flinching at scenes of brutal domestic violence and reassuring myself that, since this is a children’s book, it would have to end soon.
Clover’s despicable stepmother, Mildred, beats her to the brink of concussion. If Mildred is a slightly cartoonish villain, her ineffectual father is all too realistic. Exhausted by work in a sauce factory, by disappointment and by grief, he fails to stop Mildred's blatant abuse. Clover realises that some adults have eyes but don’t want to see. ‘He just wanted a quiet life’, is the cowardly, and somehow sickening excuse.
Clover’s only protector is Mr. Dolly, a crook-backed but kind-hearted doll-maker, who teaches her to read and to believe she was meant for better things. But even Mr. Dolly can’t protect Clover from the terror of scarlet fever. Tragedy strikes and Clover is pushed to the limits of endurance.
As a grown-up reader, I found the plot predictable. Nevertheless, Clover Moon was an addictive read. The pacing is excellent and, like my daughter, I devoured this in just two days. As a parent, I was satisfied that this book was doing more than just filling the hours for my child. Wilson brooks no nonsense and encourages girls to become strong, independent young women.
Furthermore, the story is enriched with vocabulary appropriate to the historical context. A lady "dangles her reticule", boys are "uncouth" and Clover places a "purloined bouquet" on her mother’s grave. I was impressed that the author was willing to gently challenge young readers and, perhaps, provide them with a stepping stone to those cloth-bound classics.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Clover Moon as an entertaining and worthwhile book for readers who are racing towards but not quite over the line into the YA bracket and as a great choice for a mother-daughter book club.