Stevie Carroll (stevie_carroll) wrote,
Stevie Carroll

Comparing Two Books

I was intrigued by a review by rosemaryinwheat a while back, partly because I wondered whether the topic was being tackled differently by a US author to how a UK author would deal with the same subject. So, two books, aimed at slightly different age-groups and narrated by characters at different stages in their stories.

Dustbin Baby
by Jacqueline Wilson
Published by Corgi Childrens
Print book
ISBN 9780552547963

April knows she was found in a dustbin fourteen years ago as a new-born baby. And now she's fairly happily settled with her foster mother, Marion. But she's desperate to recall what happened in the intervening years, and to see if she can find out where she really came from in the first place. A highly moving but very accessible novel, in Jacqueline Wilson's unique, acclaimed and adored style.


I loved this book. April hasn't always had an easy life, and she wants to know why she's been abandoned so many times, starting with her mother the day she was born. At the same time she has a lot of empathy for her mother, imaging her as a girl her own age or a little older finding herself in an impossible position, and she doesn't seem to blame her mother at all for any of the problems she's faced. But it's April's birthday, and she suddenly decides to bunk off school and go on a journey to revisit all her former homes and families in the hope that she'll find out where she came from and how she got to be who she is. The ending came with an unexpected reunion, not possibly the one April was hoping for, but it definitely gave her something she needed.

Having read the story from the point of view of the abandoned child, I moved straight to the book reviewed by rosemaryinwheat, telling a similar story, but a few years further on and in the US rather thsn the UK.

by Amy Efaw
Published by SPEAK
Print book
ISBN 9780142415900

Who could do such a thing? Certainly not someone like Devon Davenport - a straight-A student-athlete with everything going for her. But in a moment of denial, desperation, and sheer panic, she did something that most people couldn't even imagine. And now Devon is being charged with attempted murder. In a skillfully crafted story, Amy Efaw takes readers through the days leading up to - and after - Devon's crime, painting an unexpected picture of a truly empathetic character caught up in an unimaginable situation.


I was dubious about reading this one because of the blurb, which seemed to expect readers to be more judgmental of Devon's situation than I'd expect in this country at least. Reading it, I discovered that the US of the book is far removed from the US I know through visits and through talking to friends, and even further removed from how I would expect events to play out in the UK. The narrative was third person limited present tense, and yet somehow even that seemed to be judging Devon harshly, and I find it hard to believe that an underage girl, haemorrhaging and distressed would be treated the way the police and the hospital staff treated Devon. I could almost believe her mother being so detached from the situation as to not intervene, but it was still a painful read.

Then there was the whole issue of Devon being tried as an adult for a list of crimes that I doubt she would have been charged with in this country (or at least not without her legal team putting up a big fight to have charges dropped due to diminished responsibility). At no point did anyone try to find the baby's father, bring in a social worker or look into Devon's home life beyond the debate as to whether her mother should appear as a character witness. Plus there was no discussion of whether Devon might want contact with the baby then or in the future, which I suspect someone would bring up in the UK situation even if it was decided that adoption was the best solution for every one.

The ending felt contrived, as if the author and/or the publishers wanted to make a statement, rather than feeling like an in-character decision by anyone.

So two books. I'm still cross with the second one both for the way it seemed to be judging the protagonist, and because if that's really how real people in that situation are treated, then more people ought to be cross about it. The first book had a few wildly implausible situations, but only in the way that I'm coming to expect from Wilson's novels.

How about other people? Who's read either book? What did you think? Should books reflect the author's moral stance when it comes to potentially unsympathetic protagonists? Should we read books in a way that's contrary to how we're told to read them?
Tags: goodreads, posting while cross, print books, reviews
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