My Sister Jodie ISBN: 9780385610124
Published by Doubleday UK, 2008
Almost eleven year old Pearl is the quiet, bookish, shy one, while her older sister Jodie is brash, often rude, very difficult, and very much the outsider. Jodie, also, is extremely fond of her younger sister and has been her strength and defender always. When their parents decide to take jobs as cook and caretaker at exclusive boarding school Melchester College, a Victorian pile in the country, the girls take the news in very different ways. Pearl is delighted, but Jodie wants to stay where they are, where her 'unsuitable' friends are, and where school is a doddle because nothing is expected of her. Because Pearl is pleased, Jodie agrees to go, but makes life difficult for the family both before and after the move. Jodie and her mum are always at loggerheads as mum doesn't know how to handle her, and dad, while loving his errant daughter, isn't able to give her the kind of discipline she needs. Pearl just adores Jodie with her orange streaky hair and multiple ear piercings, and depends on her to be her mainstay. When the family arrives at the school in the summer hols, there are only a few children in residence, all much younger except for Harley, a thirteen year old lad with whom Pearl strikes up a friendship. They watch badgers together and share a love of books, while Jodie goes on her usual rampageous ways, full of ideas (usually bad ones). This really is a very difficult young teenager, and one has fellow feeling for her mother who would so like Jodie to behave and make the best of the new school. The two girls share a room in the basement accommodation provided for the family, and with Jodie in charge, the room is soon painted purple with black curtains at the window. When school begins in earnest, the girls approach their classes in very different ways as is to be expected. Pearl does well and makes friends in spite of her shyness, but Jodie is moody and irritable, making trouble in her class in spite of teacher's attempts to help her on. But Jodie is very good with the younger children, telling them stories and treating them much as she has always treated her younger sister. Soon Pearl begins to realise that she no longer needs her sister in quite the same way and that they are growing apart, not least because Jodie has become 'involved' with a gardener at the school, not sexually but throwing herself at him in obvious ways. When the two girls and Harley find a way to get into the tower at the top of the school, Jodie makes it into her hideaway, while Pearl and Harley are horrified that she spends time in the old and rotting room. In a truly terrible denoument, Jodie falls from the tower on Guy Fawkes night and is killed. This happens in the penultimate chapter of the book, leaving little room for resolution, and Pearl's and her parents' shocked and horrified reactions are rather rushed as a consequence. The fact that mum then produces a new baby sister for Pearl to love and look after looks a bit like a cop-out, but as always with Wilson, the relationships, the characterisations, and the descriptions of what is going on in the girls' minds is spot on. Jodie is one of the least likeable of Wilson's characters, but she has her strong point too, and , as always, we see the situations from different angles. A strong story which will not be to everyone's taste, but will be long remembered.