Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson (1991)

Tracy Beaker lives in a children's home. She has had two failed attempts at making things work with a foster family, but because she is an older child and a bit unruly, she has had trouble making a long-term connection. When she begins writing her life story in a book given to her by the home, she discovers some writing talent, and even has the chance to meet a real-life author, but when it seems like she and the author might just hit it off, she finds that her behavior might keep her from truly enjoying this new friendship.

Tracy is the plucky kind of character kids love to read about, whether they have anything in common with her or not. She is smart-mouthed, funny, sarcastic, and authentic, and her difficult situation gives kids a lot of reasons to root for her right off the bat. She is not always a reliable narrator, but her lies and half-truths are always obvious to the reader, and I think the reader can easily understand that they arise from a desire to protect herself. Even her misbehavior – getting into fights, breaking others' belongings, having angry outbursts – is presented in a realistic way that presents things for what they are, without glorifying disobedience or immediately passing judgment on Tracy as a “bad” kid.

Though this book was originally published in the UK in 1991, it didn't make it to the United States until 2006. Though I suspect the publisher probably could have updated some things to bring the story up to date, there is no obvious evidence that this has been done in the US edition that I read. I recall no references to cell phones or other gadgets, and honestly, I'm not sure Tracy or her friends would realistically have those things even if this book were written today. Everything in the story felt very contemporary, and I think most middle grade readers would feel the same way.

Last year, when I reviewed One for the Murphys, I criticized it for its overly happy ending, which to me, felt forced and unrealistic. The Story of Tracy Beaker seems much more in tune with what a real-life foster care experience might be like, and I think anyone who reads One for the Murphys should read this book as well to ensure a more balanced look inside the lives of kids who are in the foster care system.

There are several other titles about Tracy Beaker, and though they don't seem to be available in the US, I'd definitely like to read them. They include: The Dare Game, Starring Tracy Beaker, Tracy Beaker's Thumping Heart, and Ask Tracy Beaker and Friends.

1 comment:

  1. I love Wilson! The good news is that a lot of her work will be released in the US in eBook format. There will be a Wilson Blog tour in October, so you cab learn more about her stuff. She is my daughter's favorite author!