Baby Love by Jacqueline Wilson
Published by Penguin, March 2022
Here's a book that broke my heart in a million different ways. I was an emotional wreck after finishing it and now, weeks later, I still can't get the characters out of my head. Set in the 1960s, this is about a fourteen-year-old called Laura and what happens after she discovers she is pregnant. When we meet Laura first, she is a naive teenager who still has dolls in her bedroom and is dazzled by her new best friend, the far-more sophisticated Nina. After a confusing and nonconsensual encounter with a much older boy, Laura's body starts to change. Once her parents realise what is happening, they send her away to have her baby. At Heathcote House, Laura meets more young mums-to-be. Abandoned by their families and by their babies' fathers too, these girls are shunned by society. Some of them want to keep their babies, some of them don't, but all of them are pressured into putting them up for adoption. Laura can't imagine having a baby but she can't imagine giving one away either. What will happen when the time comes for her to give birth? I loved how this was written. It was over twenty years since I'd read anything by Jacqueline Wilson and I'd forgotten how cosy and intimate her style is. It was fascinating to get a snapshot of life as a teenager in the so-called swinging sixties. Attitudes to women and in particular, young girls, were very different. I loved all the characters; everyone was intriguing in their own way and Laura, her aunt, and the other young mothers were particularly endearing. Despite being set long ago, the themes it explores are still relevant today, particularly the casual misogyny we all internalise. Gender roles and the demonisation of females are highlighted, as are class issues. It also handles the subject of consent in a delicate but timely manner. For a book that I enjoyed so much, this also made me incredibly angry, partially because it's so realistic. And partially because I feel that in reality, at least in Ireland, Laura's story would have been even more tragic. Not once does anyone ask how a fourteen-year-old might have become pregnant; instead everyone blames Laura and brands her a 'slut' (a word I despise and one for which there is no male equivalent). The way Laura is treated by practically every adult with whom she comes in contact is disgusting but also exactly how this scenario would have played out, and no doubt did play out, repeatedly. I lost count of how many times I cried when reading Baby Love. Even though it's often sad, it's extremely funny in places and remarkably hopeful too. One of the most moving stories you're likely to find, this is just as suitable for adults as it is for readers aged 14 and upwards.