Review Blog

Oct 20 2009

Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson

cover image

Doubleday,
(Ages 9+) Recommended. Loyal fans will enjoy this vintage style Wilson story which is aimed at younger readers. The exciting adventures of Hetty Feather are related by Hetty herself, who starts life at a hospital for foundlings, is fostered into a large country family and then, at the age of six, is forced to return to the Foundling Hospital until she can go into service at fourteen. Like the majority of Wilson's heroines Hetty is spirited, fierce and imaginative and spends much of her life overcoming adversity.
Hetty Feather sometimes reads as a Victorian melodrama with much wailing and beating of chests at the mishap and misery that befall Hetty. Her adored brother Jem proves to have clay feet, another brother Saul (with gammy leg, crutch and a severe case of influenza) is not long for this world, and there is some preoccupation with children heading for heaven in white dresses and angel wings. But of course this is quite realistic in view of the disease and death that blighted the Victorian era. Historical accuracy is occasionally questionable. Would a foundling hospital in 1876 really have a stationery cupboard stocked with exercise books?
Colourful characters are plentiful. Madame Adeline the circus performer offers Hetty a glimpse of a rather more exotic life. Gideon, Hetty's sickly and delicate foster brother is stoutly championed and protected by Hetty, while her special friend Polly is almost as good at 'picturing' as Hetty herself. All the characters are fairly predictable, but Wilson injects them with sufficient verve to make them lively and appealing. There is a wonderful history in children's literature of youngsters defeating ghastly adults, especially in schools; Miss Slighcarp, Miss Trunchbull and Miss Minchin are despised by many a reader. Now Matron Pigface Peters and Miss Morley can be added to this evil roll-call!
Nick Sharratt's illustrations are my only grumble. The front cover is a delightful montage of typical Sharratt pictures, but the illustrations within are totally different; Sharratt uses silhouettes, which may reflect the Victorian story, but somehow lack the immediacy, power and humour of his usual style. Apart from this I predict total reader immersion in the rollicking plot, oodles of action and satisfying ending. Jacqueline Wilson does so much to make reading relevant, fun and addictive, and without doubt she's done it again.
Claire Larson

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