Katy ISBN: 9780141353968
Published by Puffin, 2015
Jacqueline Wilson has done something unusual in this long and complex novel: she has taken a children's classic and updated it to the 21st Century. 'Katy' is a modern version of 'What Katy Did' by Susan Coolidge, and the first thing I must do in this review is to admit I have not read the original. Had I done so, I expect I would recognise many of the same situations. In this version, Katy (11) is the eldest - and much the tallest - in a stepfamily of six children. She and her full sister Clover lost their mother, probably to cancer, some years ago, and when their father remarried, his new wife, Izzy, brought along her daughter Elsie. Since then, dad and stepmother have produced three children of their own, a boy and girl set of twins and a younger little boy. The first half of this long book is about Katy and how she as the eldest in the family has become the 'leader of the pack' so to speak. With a high imagination and a strong will, she keeps the six children and next door neighbour and best friend Cecy doing things they shouldn't. In fact, very often she gets into huge trouble with her dad and Izzy due to her shenanigans. Most of these are to do with not thinking before acting, but she doesn't seem able to see her own problem, and the other children find her such fun that they don't complain. All except Elsie. Nine year old Elsie and Katy don't get on at all, and because Katy misses her own mum so much, she and Izzy don't get on either. The fur often flies when Katy gets up to mischief, and while dad is more understanding, he is sometimes angry as well. Katy and her mum had a very special relationship, and when mum died, Katy was truly bereft - and is still so, to the point of having long conversations with her. Her resentment of Izzy is palpable, and Elsie suffers because of it. However, Elsie gives as good as she gets, and the relationships are difficult. Taking the children on Saturday picnics in the neighbours neglected back garden when the neighbour in question has no idea they are there, is only the first of Katy's questionable actions. When she tries to make pancakes and one lands on Elsie's head after being thrown, the sight of Elsie with gloop running down her face sets off the giggles, and she's in trouble again. At school she copies Cecy's homework and they get rumbled. When she invites the other children into their mum and dad's bedroom to cuddle up in the bed before their own bedtime, the result is total disaster. Trying on Izzy's clothes and shoes, her perfume and make-up and tearing the duvet cover, they are in real trouble this time. And so it goes on for a full half of the book. I found this went on for rather a long time, even though along the way we meet Helen, a past patient of Katy's doctor dad, who has rheumatoid arthritis and must use a wheelchair. This sets us up nicely for the real heart of the book. Katy makes a rope swing in the secret garden all by herself, and because she doesn't tie the knot carefully enough, falls from a great height. The real strength of the book begins at this point. The descriptions of her arriving at hospital, what happens to her there, the long and painful journey to the knowledge that she will never walk again and must use a wheelchair, and her equally long and painful journey to acceptance, both of her physical condition and of her realisation of her need for her loving and very supportive family are spot on and very moving. As Katy tells the story herself, we know what she is thinking, all her worries, her negative reactions, and her growing knowledge that she is herself still and always will be. The spiky edges are smoothed over from this very difficult but loving girl, and she has the strength to start again. As always with Wilson, the book is a super page-turner, and will be of real help to those suffering from accidents that are life-changing; girls will particularly enjoy the story and see in Katy a heroine who is believable and lovable without always being sensible - and occasionally unlikeable. (I felt sorry for Izzy at some points!) There is humour too, very nicely timed with the serious subject matter. A great read!