Penguin Puffin (UK: 30th July 2015; AU: 26th August 2015)
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TRIGGER WARNINGS: Depression, suicidal thoughts, disability slurs, fat-phobia, and fat-shaming.
This is a contemporary reimagining of Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did. Because I haven’t read the classic, who’s to blame for the problematic aspects of Katy?
The author’s note explains that in the original, through prayer and looking after her siblings Katy walks again. Jacqueline Wilson rightly points out that’s not a good message, so she takes the story in her own direction.
If only she’d done that earlier. JW says that the events in the first half of her version mirror Coolidge’s, so I guess that’s who to blame. Katy‘s first 200 pages are filler, inconsequential to the rest of the plot, like vignettes. And while I understand novels should introduce the character and her world before the plot catalyst, 200 pages is far too much and should’ve been condensed.
So who’s to blame for the character of Dorry? I wasn’t prepared for the barrage of fat-phobia and fat-shaming. Dorry is described as “chubby” and “pudgy”, but most often he’s referred to as “greedy”. Pretty much everything he says is about food, and I’m not even exaggerating. His siblings read Dorry’s diary, and it’s all about what he ate. The kids think there’re burglars downstairs, and Dorry worries, “They’ll steal the cakes!” I know he’s only a side character, but he’s one-note and his characterisation needs improvement.
As for the novel’s disability aspect, it seems believable. The awkwardness and embarrassment, the anger and frustration, and the depression – it all rings true. Katy’s disability doesn’t turn her into a saint, but she learns a lot about herself, her friends, and her family (particularly her stepmother).
However, the inclusion of two particular words is questionable. Katy uses the C-word and claims she’s only talking about herself, not her fellow patients, but the nurses rightfully say the word should never be used. There’s also the I-word, which isn’t addressed as much, but rather in a “Katy’s not an [I-word]” kind of way. In the days of Metcards, if you used one that was expired, the I-word would describe the ticket. It’s upsetting that in the novel, the word is used to describe PEOPLE, rather than things.
My other word complaint is “tomboy”. Some may claim it’s not offensive, but it still conforms to outdated notions of gender that outdoorsy, active girls are “tomboys”, as opposed to just being who they are – girls.
Then there’s an action near the end that strikes me as extremely poor judgement. Katy’s PE teacher has been working with her on her ball skills, and Katy wants to join in with the rest of the class playing games. Mr Myers asks Katy if she could sit on the floor with her back to the wall, if he helped her. Katy agrees, but then he offers Katy’s wheelchair to classmates to try out. NO. Just plain NO. You DON’T (or at least you bloody well SHOULDN’T) invite others to use a wheelchair without first obtaining permission from the wheelchair’s regular user – in this case, Katy, who doesn’t call out Mr Myers on his shoddy behaviour. Katy shouldn’t have to call him out, though, because Mr Myers should have some basic common sense and decency! Ugh, this scene really bothers me.
Jacqueline Wilson probably means well with her contemporary reimagining of Susan Coolidge’s classic, but the execution still needs a lot of improvement. Katy’s a wonderful character, but those surrounding her need more fleshing out and less faff.