Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson

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Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: They bill it as "Truly, Madly, Deeply" for children, and that's about it. Told in Jacqueline Wilson's admirably direct fashion, this is a story about grief and sadness that isn't bleak at all. It's a difficult theme but accessible enough for any confident reader of nine or over.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: October 2001
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
ISBN: 0440864151

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Jade and Vicky have always been best friends - ever since they were really, really little. They're inseparable and walk around in that way young girls have, arms linked, shutting out everybody else. Vital, dynamic Vicky is the dominant one of the two, she's popular and outgoing and loves to take the lead. She's not above a bit of manipulation and emotional blackmail to get her own way though, and get her own way she invariably does because her friend Jade is a quiet, shy, unassuming little girl who loves Vicky in a way that borders on hero-worship.

Then one day Jade and Vicky have a tiff on the way home from school. Vicky pulls away from Jade and runs straight out into the road:

"and then she's in the road and then and then a car a squeal of brakes a scream a SCREAM

silence"

An ambulance is called and Jade goes with Vicky to the hospital. She's not allowed to stay with her though, she's ushered into a waiting room. She's so afraid she can't think straight and reverts into one of those childish counting games. She counts to a hundred, stands up, turns round, sits down. If she can only get to a thousand without interruption everything will be alright. Just as she gets to the last hundred the door of the waiting room opens and in come a doctor, a nurse and Vicky's parents who are both in tears. Vicky has died. Jade is distraught, she can't take it in. She feels like she herself will die of grief and she turns and runs from the hospital back to the spot where the accident happened. Already there is a floral tribute laid at the side of the road a la Princess Diana - Vicky's only been dead an hour. Suddenly Jade hears a laugh, a laugh she knows better than any other, it's Vicky's laugh. She whirls around and sees her. Vicky isn't going to let a little thing like being dead spoil her fun and she's certainly not going to let a little thing like being dead stop her bossing Jade about either.

Vicky haunts Jade but, lost in grief, Jade is glad of it. She clings to the dead Vicky just as she did to the living one. When she's not there Jade is helpless, time slows and she feels like she's watching events unfold around her but can't take part. She can't eat or sleep or think clearly at all and she lives for the times when Vicky appears. But slowly, slowly, Jade starts to feel suffocated and frightened by her friend. Vicky is not happy she's dead - she needs a companion, and she needs Jade, a companion she can manipulate as easily as she always did. Vicky won't let Jade go, she won't allow her to move on, or to make new friends, or have any interests at all. Jade feels responsible for the accident and so she allows Vicky to rule her, just as she too always did. Her schoolwork starts to suffer, family, friends and teachers worry, but Jade, under Vicky's instructions, pushes away her would-be comforters. Vicky doesn't want anyone to be happy any more, even her parents, and least of all Jade. She plays on Jade's guilt to keep her hold and Jade for a long time is completely in her thrall. We also discover that Jade is vulnerable in other ways - her parents marriage is not a happy one and money is a problem at home. She's trying to deal with a lot of things all at once and unsurprisingly it's proving too much. Eventually, with the help of an unoffical grief counsellor Jade begins to realise that she must free herself from Vicky or she'll never be happy again.

Vicky Angel is a novel for fairly young children. Jade and Vicky are portrayed as secondary school girls but the discussion group at my children's school was one of ten and eleven year olds. I reckon confident readers of about nine would be able to take it in. So it has a happy ending - it's not all bleak. On the back of the book there's a quote from a review describing Vicky Angel as a sort of "Truly, Madly, Deeply" for kids. I'm not particularly keen on that film but I do think it's a great theme for a children's book - death isn't an easy topic for any child, let alone any adult, and yet this metaphor of ghost-for-grief is handled superbly well by Wilson. Even Sophie, at nine, had realised that Vicky's ghost may or may not be real - she may perhaps be a visualisation, a desperate clinging-on by Jade to the friend she once had. Wilson captures Jade's feelings perfectly, she describes them with understanding and sympathy but she's never less than honest, never patronisies and never gives way to mawkishness or treacly sentiment. Some of the passages which show how grief is so numbing, the way it makes time seems irrelevant, the way it can obsess a person, are not easy to read, even for me, a grown-up:

"Time is slowing down until I stop believing my own watch. I've slowed down too. Each step is like wading through thick mud, each mouthful of food remains in my mouth like chewing gum."

"And it doesn't hurt the way I thought it would. It's not sharp all the time. It's dull, dull, dull. I want it to hurt more."

"There's a scary moment when she seems to blot out my brain, taking over my mind altogether."

Shocking stuff for nine or ten year olds isn't it? Yet the book has a lightness of touch, lent by its honest, gentle, wry humour. Vicky is as funny and full of jokes dead as she was alive. She laughs at Jade and pokes fun at everyone else in her usual witty way. It's not easy to add lightness to a subject such as this but Wilson's managed it in Vicky Angel. This book is about a dark subject but it isn't dark at all. It's a story of sadness but also a story that sadness can have an end. The prose isn't clever or pretty - it's almost completely lacking in metaphor, simile or anything else literary. It's highly colloquial and not even grammatical most of the time, yet it dragged me in immediately. Somehow that easy, vernacular style is full of emotional truth and and an almost frightening honesty. You read and read, even as an adult, hoping that Jade will be alright, recognising and feeling desperately sorry for her pain and confusion and yet realising that it's inevitable, that it's something that must be if her sadness and grief is to be understood, worked through and finally left behind although never forgotten.

I was amazed by Vicky Angel, it blew me away - I suppose I expected something good after the awards and the rave reviews, but I really wasn't expecting anything this good. I don't believe in hiding sadness, or anything else for that matter, from children, however hard it is. I don't think Jacqueline Wilson does either and I'll be sure to be reading more of her.

A more poetic book that asks young children to accept death is The Crowstarver by Dick King Smith.

Buy Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson at Amazon.com.


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Kate said:

When my daughter was into Wilson in a big way, I made a point of reading her copies.

I cried (mind you, I also cried at the Cat Mummy, which is for even younger children and at the Illustrated Mum, for older). Thinking about it, I cry at the drop of a hat.

malou.dd said:

Fabulous is all I have to say!

coracollins said:

this book sounds truly moving!