Followed by Girls Under Pressure, Out Late and In Tears, these stories of a being a fourteen year old girl, trying to navigate various pressures such as being top in art or wearing the right coloured tights, dealing with step-mothers, baby brothers, horrible teachers, and even more horrible boys.
Like any good female-centric series written by a woman it is the friendships that make it as popular now as anything Dame Wilson has written and is well worth rediscovering.
Jacqueline Wilson wrote Girls… when she was really starting to hit the big time as the go-to writer for books about children.
Six years after Tracy Beaker made her famous to primary school teachers throughout the land she had also written best sellers The Suitcase Kid, The Bed and Breakfast Star, Smarties’ Prize Winner Double Act and, my favourite, Bad Girls.
All of these books, brilliant as they are, stared girls still in primary school, and it is no surprise that Wilson, a former writer for Jackie magazine “wanted to write about teenagers for a change”.
The series, which is all told through the point of view of Ellie, and illustrated by Nick Sharratt, focus on various aspects of teenage life, some of which more universal than others. Written in her usual hard-hitting style, Wilson holds back no punches as her heroines go through being groomed for sex by older men, develop eating disorders and self-harm.
Although most of the problems the characters go through are down to societal pressure to look and act a certain way and to acquire and keep a boyfriend (preferably a good looking one who wants to kiss you and hold your hand but do nothing else), what makes these books is the on-and-off-but-mostly-on friendship between the three girls.
Ellie, big boobed and frizzy haired, funny and brilliantly creative, grieving for her mother who died when she was little but sort-of getting on better with her young step-mother Anna is the ultimate Jacqueline Wilson heroine, in that everything she does either you’ve done, would do or have sort of thought about.
Along with her BFF Nadine, a gothy girl whose lanky frame and stringy hair hides a beautiful face and sweet character, and the beautiful blonde Magda, thirteen going on thirty, who keeps the gang together with her outrageous antics and charm, but falls badly for her art teacher.
Some parts of these books are extremely hard to read. Girls Under Pressure, the second in the series, includes descriptions of self-harm and assault. The way men treat the girls in this book reminded me a lot of my teenage years, and although we are getting better in talking about abuse, harassment and sexism, the fact that the things that happen to Magda in 1998, to me in 2001, to other young women now and have been happening for decades is a sad reminder of the need to educate everyone, not just teenagers, about sex and consent and what that actually means.
These books are definitely not suitable for younger readers, which seeing as Jacqueline Wilson’s main fanbase is around eleven years old could be a bit of a problem.
I’ve got them in my work library and they never stay on the shelves, in fact I was only able to re-read the first two of these books because the library reservations for Girls In Tears goes on for about six weeks, which just shows how popular and still relevant this series is.
The copies I managed to get my hands on were republished in the late noughties and unlike some other reprints of childhood classics, they haven’t gone through and changed all the references to be more ‘street’ with today’s kids. Ellie still writes to her first boyfriend Dan and everyone still more or less lives in MacDonald’s.
Like Hannah in Dunham’s Girls, Ellie could be accused of somehow managing to live in inner city London and yet have a surprisingly resourceful set of parents and no black friends. This may be the reason the producers of the dreadful TV series version of Girls In Love decided to make Magda mixed race, but why did they also have to make Ellie thin?
Jacqueline Wilson has written some other books for older readers, but to be honest none of them really match up to Girls in Love and the rest.
Terrible TV adaptations aside, Girls In Love is lovely, if sad book. Reading YA can sometimes feel a little fantasy-tastic, so it’s sometimes nice to throw a little reality in the mix. If you’re looking for a gentle reminder of how horrible Year 9 was, or have a teenage girl yourself you want to get into reading, plonk these in your bathroom and enjoy.