To be horrified by this Jacqueline Wilson book and the message it sends to teens?

(170 Posts)
AmyFarrahFowlerCooper Fri 21-Jun-13 14:25:36

At the moment in on a bit of a nostalgia kick book wise and have been reading all my old Jacqueline Wilson books. I've just finished rereading Love Lessons. Its about a lonely teenager (14) who falls "in love" with her male teacher who reciprocates the feelings and acts upon them.

Basically she confesses that she "loves him" and when they are alone in his car after babysitting, she kisses him and he kisses her back. He tells her that he has been fantasising about her at night and wishing they could be together. At the end of the book, the girl is asked to leave the school so the teacher can stay. On the walk home, the teacher catches her to say he loves her but he's staying with his wife.

When I read this as a teenager, I thought it was romantic and a really sad love story but now as an adult, all I can think is what on earth was JW thinking?! Teenage girls always get crushes on teachers but its like this book is saying to try and act on it because some teachers might love you back.

And then when the girl is asked to leave the school, the things the head teacher says to her are appalling. Quotes:

"You should have thought of that before you started acting in this ridiculous and precocious manner. If I were another kind of head teacher I would have Mr Raxberry instantly suspended. There could even be a court case. He would not only lose his job, he could find himself in very serious trouble. Did you ever stop to think about that?" --> is complete victim blaming and ignoring (and failing to report) abuse.

The girl says "none of this was his fault." and the head teacher says "I'm inclined to believe you." Again blaming the girl for what happened.

Its like JW is saying that a 14 year old girl could be responsible for an adult male risking his job and taking advantage of a pupil. Like she should have been the one to say no. And she's also saying that people in authority (the people someone abused should confide in) might think that way too. What will girls reading that book think?

At no point does JW use the story to explain that this is abuse, the girl is a victim and that the teacher is responsible for the situation and not the girl.

AIBU to be horrified by this book and disappointed in Jacqueline Wilson?

whois Fri 21-Jun-13 20:01:04

Calling for a book burning

AmyFarrahFowlerCooper Fri 21-Jun-13 20:04:03

neverfinish, I get what you are saying but I think in those stories, the circumstances are obvious to the reader. I mean, in Romeo and Juliet, its obivous to the reader that they duffed up by killing themselves because of a misunderstanding. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout's dad talks to Scout about how wrong it is that an innocent man is punished for the colour of his skin. And I haven't read the other book whoops but its obvious that its wrong to kill someone else. The issue with Love Lessons is that its never pointed out or even obvious to the reader that it is a story about an abuser and a victim. As a teen, I thought it was a love story and thought it was romantic because I knew nothing about abuse and the book didnt mention it at all even in a subtle way. The only reference to it being wrong is the way it could affect the teachers life. Nothing about the victim. It makes me a bit uncomfortable looking back to think that I thought a man abusing a child was romantic. Imagine how many other teens reading it could have thought the same.

I think that's the difference between JW being irresponsible and the other authors not being though. The fact that the crazy suicide, the racism and the murder can all be easily picked up from the book by teenagers but the fact that a teen-teacher relationship being abuse is not easily picked up unless the reader already knows its abusive.

WafflyVersatile Fri 21-Jun-13 20:07:59

I've never read JW or seen TB but I was all prepared to say YABU and that it's fine for teenagers to read about some of the shittier things that happen (and remembering that some kids are living what she writes about) and then I read the bit about the teacher and I thought wellllll, teenagers have these fantasies so maybe it's ok for them to know they are not the first.

But bloody hell what a terrible message that is to give teenage girls. Unless there is a bit after that where it's quite clearly shown that the teacher is sacked etc

YANBU.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Fri 21-Jun-13 20:10:20

We could quibble about lots of things (starting with whether Shakespeare 'stories' are 'read' and enjoyed by teenagers), but surely that comparison ridiculous?

Romeo and Juliet (FWIW) is about two people who die tragically, who're both of an age, for the time when the play was written, when it wasn't that unreasonable to get married. I sort of think most people have figured out that the morality might be a little complex to interpret in today's terms.

Jacqueline Wilson, amongst other things, aint no Shakespeare.

UseHerName Fri 21-Jun-13 20:13:58

that's grim

i suppose if someone's dd has already read it, it could be used for discussion??

Mumsyblouse Fri 21-Jun-13 20:14:41

Jacqueline Wilson ain't no Shakespeare but she's sold 30 million books! I wouldn't ban any books of hers, she writes about lots of 'inadvisable' situations such as best friends arguing, bullying, death, leaving, divorce, absent fathers, teen romance, there are also lots of fiction books out there on teens and drugs, for example. I don't think they should all follow a simple plot in which the drugs are 'bad' or the teen fantasy is 'bad'- they are not morality tales but fictional depictions of what might happen, and this is pretty realistic.

But, despite all that, I just don't ban books or censor books, or films or anything aimed at children or teens in my house, makes them too tempting.

UseHerName Fri 21-Jun-13 20:14:53

i.e. talk to them about victim blaming, abuse of power, exploitation etc

MadBusLady Fri 21-Jun-13 20:21:16

You sound like a bunch of idiots calling for a book boring because the story doesn't fit with your idea of right and wrong.

Who called for a book burning? confused

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Fri 21-Jun-13 20:25:18

Oh, I don't want to burn it (or bore it), I just thought 'only on Mumsnet' to the Shakespeare comparison.

MadBusLady Fri 21-Jun-13 20:45:30

I'm not in favour of banning Enid Blyton either, by the way, but I think everyone understands that Blytons come with various health warnings about casual sexism, the odd bit of racism etc. It's fine for (sufficiently mature) children to read them as long as they are discussed and those elements are pointed out. They'll probably (hopefully) stick out as being odd to the child anyway.

What really shocked me about this was this is a recent book, by a Children's Laureate no less, who is generally praised for writing books that introduce children and teens to "difficult issues". So you might assume as a parent that these books are guaranteed safe reads for personal development. And yet this book appears to need a massive health warning.

Or where does it end? Would you be happy for a book aimed at children and teens that tackled the difficult issue of sexual abuse with the family to end up with a victim-blaming message? Just because that was "realistic" and sadly sometimes does happen?

WafflyVersatile Fri 21-Jun-13 21:00:08

It's the victim-blaming message that gets me.

My impression of her books is that they do sometimes deal with difficult and ugly issues, but issues that some teens do encounter. I think it's great that a child could read a book and think, this teen is like me, she lives with an alcoholic mum who forgets to give her lunch money too. It's not just me. But this seems to reinforce ideas of girls and women being at fault. Any girl in a similar situation is not going to be given strength from this.

NeverFinishWhatYouStarted Fri 21-Jun-13 21:00:50

OK, lets leave better authors out of it, so that the issue isn't muddied hmm Do you turn off the tv when the newscaster reports that a rapist got a suspended sentence because he's sick, sorry, or she was drunk and wearing a skirt or whatever. Every time there's an injustice or misunderstanding in tween Disney soaps. What about the abuse suffered by every single Disney princess? You going to censor
all those too?
Authors have no moral responsibilities. Judging by recent sales of Fifty Shades, they don't even have literary or editorial responsibilities. Let kids read what interests them and talk to them about the books. You might be surprised by their levels of insight.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Fri 21-Jun-13 21:05:12

Authors do have moral responsibilities, IMO.

I don't get why there can't be a middle ground between censoring or burning books, and thinking it's a bit shit to write victim-blaming.

I think Disney is a bit shit too. So shoot me.

Branleuse Fri 21-Jun-13 21:07:37

i would have loved that theme as a teenager. im a bit old for jaqueline wilson.
I did read judy blume forever a fair few times.

AmyFarrahFowlerCooper Fri 21-Jun-13 21:21:01

Comparing the book to other things that contain negative messages doesn't change the fact that this book contains an awful message about it being the child's fault that an adult has taken advantage of them. I also think an author who writes books aimed at children and teenagers does have a moral responsibility to be careful when writing about sensitive subjects like abuse and in this case, JW hasn't been careful at all. If she knows teenagers are going to read a book about this topic, she knows that they may take ideas on board from the book which seem to be, in this case, don't report an adult who takes advantage of you because you will be punished and he will carry on as before free to do it again.

I usually stand up for JW but that is shocking! The reaction of the head teacher I mean, rather than the storyline.

She covers topics that would usually be avoided with young teens which is why I like her so much but I think I'm going to have to read that one (it was published shortly after I grew out of JW by the looks of things) and work out ho I feel about it for myself because it doesn't sound amazing from that passage in the OPost!

RedHelenB Fri 21-Jun-13 21:52:17

I minded more about the death in My Sister Jodie than my dds did! And I LOVED Enid Blyton as a child but when I re read as an adult the sexism & racism & classism jumped out at me from the off! Not a fan of JW but I don't think this is a bit of an over reaction when it seems to end in maybe a more realistic way (ie teacher staying with wife ) Can't see schools studying her in the way they do Harper Lee. And what on earth do you make of Darling Buds of May!?

FoundAChopinLizt Fri 21-Jun-13 22:34:43

Ezza

She says that Hetty's parents died, but she's got more answers than me as to what happens after death....grin

I was reading Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, Susan Howarth (Penmarric), and Le Carré very young.They were very off message but I have managed to escape adopting their values thankfully.

ncforembarrassingproblem Fri 21-Jun-13 22:52:07

IIRC a huge part of the ending is actually the girls acknowledgment that her teacher is wrong. The head teacher is not in any way portrayed in a positive way.. At no point does Prue accept that her actions were her own fault. Again, a discussion point with DCs.

Re Tracy Beaker - also some other books - as adults we ought to recognise Tracy is the way she is due to her background, possibly prompting a chat with DCs about behaviour, causes of bad behavior etc.

I loved Jacqueline Wilson as a child, still do. I loved The Illustrated Mum because it resonated with me. I had been through similar circumstances - an ill single parent - and I found an understanding voice in that book. I'm an adult and when I struggle to cope with my
life situation I still read that book. I imagine a great deal of others will recognise their own life situations in her stories.

JW also managed to get my severely ASD sister reading, she reads some of her stories for younger readers eg Lizzie Zipmouth, Twin Trouble and loves them.

For me a perfect book is one in which you are forced to question the narrator, not take everything as it is. An intelligent fourteen year old or so should be able to question the main character, decide what they think, are they a reliable narrator, could their view be tainted and why? Is the narrator telling the full truth? Is it a likely scenario? I can think of a huge huge number of books where this is invited or required, some your DCs will encounter as they get older - Lolita, Tess, Cuckoo's Nest, Sylvia Plath, 1984 etc were all offered as texts when I was seventeen. Starting to be critical of a book ought to start early, its a good skill for later exams.

Finally - book censoring never works, I know this as when I was a teen my friends and I sloped off to the library and read everything we shouldn't, eg Dyan Sheldon etc.

MooncupGoddess Fri 21-Jun-13 22:59:25

I haven't read it but am somewhat dubious about the concept of 'guaranteed safe reads for personal development'. I don't think novels either do or should work like that, except perhaps for very young children.

WafflyVersatile Fri 21-Jun-13 22:59:32

ah, that's what I was wondering, ncfor.

MadBusLady Fri 21-Jun-13 23:00:09

Never, your "comparison" to news stories, and leaving out authors because it "muddies the issue" hmm is an insult to our intelligence. I will not insult yours by suggesting that you do not know that really; I think you do.

And spare us the appeal to Literature. Children's authors, particularly those who position themselves as "difficult issues" writers, absolutely do have to balance their responsibilities to children's minds against their calling to Art.

I'm sure I would be very impressed by the level of insight shown by many healthy, loved, well-balanced children into a story about an adult grooming a child. I'm equally sure I would be shocked and horrified by the vulnerability and lack of insight into such a story shown by the kind of children who unfortunately are most likely to be targeted by abusers.

AmyFarrahFowlerCooper Fri 21-Jun-13 23:02:04

I don't really think a huge part of the ending is that she acknowledges that her teacher was wrong. The book ends with her wishing she could see him, kiss him and be with him forever and every so often going for a walk past his house. The closest she gets to acknowledging him being wrong is wondering if he lied to the head teacher and blamed her for it all. But that's before the part about how she still loves him and thinks about him all the time and walks past his house.

I'm sure the book would be great as a starting point for discussions but if the book isn't read by the parent first, they won't be aware that they really need to discuss the content of the book. I do think JW gets it right many times and The Illustrated Mum is close to my heart too but I am disappointed with her for writing this book without any acknowledgement that it is abuse so that a child reading it alone will understand this after reading it.

joanofarchitrave Fri 21-Jun-13 23:08:15

I feel on the fence about this, but in the end would come down on the side of never censoring... because my mother never, ever censored my reading and that was a good thing. What she did do was keep an eye on what I was reading and would sometimes put things my way if she felt I needed a contrast to things I was reading all the time. If you have a child who is reading nothing but jw, then try and ensure they are getting a broader reading diet. And also nothing wrong with saying to them 'Is that the book that says it's all the girl's fault and that 14-year-olds need to stop men from having relationships with them? That's crazy and it's not what the law says either. What did you think?'

MadBusLady Fri 21-Jun-13 23:09:33

Mooncup it's her bag, not mine. Rightly or wrongly, she is viewed as someone who delivers to that teen personal development market. You seem to be taking "personal development" as a synonym for "simple moral messages", and it isn't at all. Adults engage in personal/emotional development all the time, it's probably one of the main ways in which we all use fiction.

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