Because I'm Bella ISBN: 9780192753342
Published by O.U.P., 2004
Bella is in care, living in a children's home, which she hates. Her mum is mentally ill, her dad in prison. She has been sexually abused as a young child, and she is fat and unlovable. Into this morass of problems come a number of imaginary friends - characters from the local cathedral, chief among them the Dog Whipper, the man who used to chase stray dogs from the cathedral 300 years ago. Bella has a powerful imagination, shown not only by her conjuring up people from the windows and statuary in the cathedral, but also in the awful tricks she thinks up with two friends from the home - cruel tricks they play on others. Bella comes to believe that she needs to mother a child, and steals the 2 year old Tarik, son of one of the cleaners at the home. After a harrowing night, she realises she cannot care for him properly and returns him, only to be placed in a secure unit. The Dog Whipper, the only constant in Bella's very troubled existance, manages to find a way to send her mother to her, and Bella must come to terms with the fact that her mum can only love her from a distance - that they will never be close. Rosemary, a guide at the cathedral, befriends Bella nd becomes a stable influrence. In one glorious last 'trick' Bella and a chum cause total chaos at the cathedral when dogs and people meet all the medieval ghosts in a super fight. Bella realises that the Dog Whipper is now needed by her mum, and that she will be able to depend on the solidly real Rosemary for the help she needs. This is a terrifically complex novel, grittily realistic, with a not always likeable but strong central character. Don't be fooled by the cover. It has little to do with what is inside.