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This story by Jacqueline Wilson tells the tale of two sisters who could not be more different being moved to a new place, a new school, everything. Pearl, the younger of the two at ten years old, idolizes Jodie in every single way. Jodie is fourteen and does whatever she likes, whenever she likes much to her parents dislike, especially her mother. When they move into the cottage at the old school, Jodie gets into a lot of trouble, even trying to get the older gardener, Jed, to go out with her. Pearl makes new friends, too. She especially likes a tall, thin and shy boy named Harley. Everything seems to be going well until the other kids at the school arrive as soon as the term starts. Pearl makes lots of new friends and doesn't need Jodie anymore - or so Jodie thinks - and Jodie never really fits in. Secretly, Peal and Jodie along with Harley climb the mysterious steps in the tower that lead to Mrs. Wilberforce's - the headmistress who had an accident and is now in a wheelchair- bedroom. Jodie is convinced she fell out of the tower and then tells everyone that. On Halloween, she tells it to the young children at bedtime and then is humiliated into telling everyone- the whole school - that it wasn't true. On Bonfire night, Jodie dresses up as a ghost and hangs out of the window - with terrible consequences.
I love the end of this book - the twist that Pearl tells you. I think many people would enjoy this book as it is different from other Jacqueline Wilson books.
This is the first Jacqueline Wilson book I have tried reading (as part of shadowing the 'Berkshire Book Award' and I have to admit that it was better than I'd anticipated. Wilson is famous for writing amazingly popular stories for young children, around 10-13, and has been honoured with many of the UK's top awards for children's books. She was also the Children's Laureate for 2005-7 and was awarded an OBE in 2002. Obviously I was aware of her popularity, but I was convinced that her books were over-hyped, dull and simplistic. (These are the same reasons why I have never read any of the Harry Potter books.)
'My Sister Jodie' tells the story of two very different sisters: Pearl is shy/reserved and her sister Jodie is much more confident with a flair for getting in to trouble. The story is told from Pearl's perspective, but Jodie's thoughts are usually clear to us through her speech and actions. Their mother, distraught by Jodie's multiple ear piercings, dyed hair and lack of interest in school, decides to move the whole family miles away to live at Melchester College, a Victorian gothic mansion. Pearl, who is increasingly bullied at school for being a 'swot' and a 'teacher's pet' is more than ready to go; Jodie is unhappy but finally ready to leave.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Pearl soon settles in at Melchester College while Jodie feels increasingly isolated. Wilson shows the pain that results as two sisters grow steadily apart. As the girls explore their new home, Wilson fully exploits the gothic setting by creating a mysterious tower, abandoned attics and a reference to Miss Havisham. This creates a dark tone that increases as the novel continues and tensions grow.
Early on in the novel, it is clear that Sharon, the girls' mum, has a favourite: Pearl. Sharon constantly berates and belittles Jodie, regarding her individual nature as unsuitable for a young lady, and suggests that she is corrupting Pearl. Although Jodie does behave poorly at times, she is actually an adventurous, fun-loving child who appears to seek negative attention partly because she gets no positive attention from her mother. As the novel progressed, Sharon's complaining began to irritate me greatly, especially as she fails to notice Jodie's growing unhappiness. Joe, the girls' dad, does love both daughters, but is an ineffectual figure, failing to rein in his wife's overt hostility and reassure Jodie of her place in their hearts. This was a very sad aspect to the novel.
The pace of the story is slow to allow Wilson to focus on the emotional states of the characters; this is understandable, but does make the plot rather dull, even when supposedly dramatic events happen. Events are realistic and believable; dialogue is equally soundly constructed. The more minor characters can seem very one-sided, but they are largely subsidiary to the novel's emotional centre and this flaw can be overlooked.
The problem comes at the end. Unsatisfied with simply creating a believable tale of separation and conformist anxiety, Wilson sticks a sudden shocking event into the penultimate chapter. Obviously, there is never time to explore the implications of this fully, so the novel feels poorly closed. However, it is possible to read a very disturbing message into the novel's final chapter: the family become happier, despite their sadness, and it seems that perhaps the only option in life is to conform.
I feel there is some ambiguity surrounding this event, although it is unclear whether this is intentional on Wilson's part. Young readers may find this very sad and surprising, but it is not written graphically so should not cause too much upset. In fact, the whole event happens extremely quickly after a lengthy, clue-ridden build-up.
Another complaint is that the whole of the plot is given away by the blurb: I could have guessed the ending, even if a kind (!) friend hadn't told me before I read the book. This does mean that the novel is slightly predictable because you can feel as if you are just waiting for the big event to occur. Of course, as I noted above, the big climax is clearly signposted throughout the book anyway, so only very young readers are likely to feel sideswiped. I do think this is a flaw because, although it engages you with the characters, hoping that the event won't happen, Wilson is usually famed for tackling difficult issues and I feel this issue is left totally unresolved as it happens so close to the ending of the novel.
Overall this is a realistic and mildly enjoyable, if highly predictable, read.