“I don’t see why I can’t have a little holiday like anyone else. I’ve given up nearly everything to keep you kids happy – and now just this once I’m going to put myself first. That’s not so bad, is it!” (P.54)
As with all her books, Jacqueline Wilson has surpassed herself here in her ability to bring the lesser talked about, troubled and marginalised sections of society to to the fore in her children’s books. Lily Alone is a touching story of child neglect and abandonment, courage, and the unrelenting strength of bonds between siblings.
Eleven, and the oldest of four, Lily Green has taken the role of second mum in her household since her stepfather passed away – her mum is suffering with depression. She assists in raising brother Baxter and sister Bliss, twin six year olds, and Pixie, a toddler.
Only 25 herself, Lily’s mother meets 19 year old Gordon on a night out, leading to her neglecting her children to travel off to Spain for a week, assuming her other abusive ex, Mikey, will pick up the voicemail asking for him to babysit and arrive to look after the children – frustrating and selfish, her mother shows no acknowledgment or awareness of her role in depriving Lily of a childhood.
But when Mikey does return the phone call, Lily manages to persuade him that their mother is still there, so that he does not abandon his work trip, leaving Lily alone for a week with her brother and sisters.
Wilson details beautifully the children’s survival in the modern world without their mother; she captures the stunning nature and strength of the love young siblings share for each other, and the lengths they will go to to protect each other – from stealing food rations, to sleeping in a hollowed out tree in a park with only each other for protection and comfort.
Lily is a strong young woman; she displays extreme courage and resourcefulness when she has nothing, patience when caring for her siblings despite it meaning her missing out on living her own life, and an unwavering love for her mother regardless of her abandoning them all without a care. Wilson shows us Lily’s escapist techniques in her daydreaming about being completely alone; a successful interior designer in her own big beautiful home.
The children evade concerned neighbours, scary strangers and passers by, lie to teachers and put themselves in extremely dangerous situations, one of which results in Bliss requiring hospital treatment, in order to cope and remain alone, but most importantly, to protect their mother. Lily’s siblings begin to call her ‘Lilymum’, and Lily takes her caring role extremely seriously, even referring to them as ‘my children’; there are moments we forget she only eleven years old.
When she eventually does return, Lily’s mother has a lot of people to answer to, including her young family.
As heart-breaking as it is humbling, Lily Alone is a definite must read for girls aged 12-16. Wilson allows the contemporary reader to imagine themselves within the story, through her casual use of intertextuality and aspects of modern life in her writing.
Published 2011/ illustrations by Nick Sharratt
Read my post on Jacqueline Wilson’s The Suitcase Kid here.