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Salon.com
Friday, December 16th, 2005


 

The Illustrated Mum

by

Delight the Budding Bookworm on Your List

A review by Sarah Karnasiewicz

When it was released in Britain, The Illustrated Mum, by prolific children's author Jacqueline Wilson, was showered with awards -- including the Guardian Award for Children's Fiction and the Children's Book of the Year Award. Unfortunately, readers living stateside had to bide their time for more than four years before this spring's first American printing -- but I dare say it was worth the wait.

In The Illustrated Mum, Wilson spins a quirky modern drama chronicling the lives of two young girls, Dolphin and Star, as they struggle to come to terms with their mother Marigold's mental health problems. Marigold is alternately depicted as both a fascinating free spirit -- who gets a new tattoo whenever the whim strikes -- and a frightening firecracker, prone to three-day benders and manic mood swings that prompt her to spend the welfare checks on dozens of fancy cakes instead of school lunches.

Though this story could easily melt into melodrama, Wilson maintains a deft touch with her characters, keeping them firmly planted in a real and recognizable physical and emotional landscape. Star, the elder girl, tired of having to take care of her mother and her younger sister, retreats to the local McDonald's parking lot to hang with her high school clique and trade kisses for French fries and butterscotch sundaes. Ten-year-old Dolphin, our narrator, is devoted to Marigold and clings to the hope that she'll "get better," but fears Star has left them behind. Even Marigold escapes caricature as Wilson paints a complex, poignant portrait of a mother struggling to do right by her girls while wrestling with an overwhelming illness.

Wilson, a superstar in her home country, was this year named the U.K.'s children's laureate -- a post she will hold for the next two years. The Illustrated Mum makes for a humorous, human introduction to her work and is a sterling example of the ambitious young-adult novels coming out of the U.K. today.


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