Jacqueline Wilson’s novel, Baby Love, for older readers explores class differences, issues of sexual consent, teenage pregnancy and adoption. While those might be heavy subjects, the story takes place from the safe distance of 1960. Elvis Presley is all the rage.
14-year-old Laura is the protagonist and first-person narrator. She is a sensible, hardworking grammar school student. Her father is a coach driver and her mother works in a shoe shop. Money is tight, and they live in a ‘prefab with a corrugated iron roof’ rather than a ‘proper house’. Having struggled to have children, Laura’s parents take great pride in their daughter’s academic achievements.
When Laura makes friends with Nina, the daughter of two doctors, Laura’s working-class roots are exposed. Their relative backgrounds could not be more different, and Laura is all too aware that her family are the ‘Soggy Bottoms’ in contrast to the Upper Crust. Nina plays tennis, has high tea in the afternoons and goes on exotic foreign holidays.
A chance encounter at the local Lido has terrible repercussions for Laura. She is sent away to Sussex when her pregnancy is revealed but finds solace in the sorority of other young women who are in the same situation as her.
The scene of Laura’s sexual encounter raises contemporary questions about consent, with readers left in no doubt about Laura’s naivety, confusion and discomfort.
‘Voulez-vous coucher avec-moi?’ he murmured.
I didn’t know what coucher meant. It wasn’t a verb we’d been taught at school. Perhaps it meant cuddle?
The backdrop of 1959-1960 gives the story a distanced, old-fashioned feel, but while the choices facing teenagers today are much broader, and the support systems very different, the historic setting allows Wilson to highlight notions of choice and female empowerment.
Readers who have grown up enjoying Jacqueline Wilson’s books when they were younger are sure to enjoy this novel, for slightly older readers of 14 years upwards, in the same way.
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