Josh: Oh, you like that author, don't you?
Me: Jacqueline Wilson? YES. So much. I'm surprised that you recognized her name, I haven't read her in ages.
Josh: Well, her books all kind of look the same.
Me: Fair. They are pretty wonderfully branded.
Josh: How is it so far?
Me: Well, this is going to sound awful, but it's about this orphan, but so far she's too young to live in the orphanage, so she's living this kind of idyllic existence in a small village with a loving family, and...
Josh: ...you're totally just waiting for her to go to the orphanage and for her life to GO ALL TO HELL, aren't you?
Josh: You are a terrible person.
I am SO behind in my Jacqueline Wilson reading. I think the last time I wrote about one of her books was in, what, 2010? Yikes.
Anyway, Hetty Feather is the first in—judging by the full-color reproductions of two other book covers printed on the inside of the front and back of this one—a series about the trials and tribulations of the titular character. As it was inspired by Jacqueline Wilson's tenure as the Foundling Museum's Coram Foundling Fellow, Wilson obviously did loads of research into what life was like for the children who grew up there, and it's very clear that she made a very concerted effort to be fair: most of the adults who worked there aren't portrayed as particularly warm and fuzzy, and some of them definitely use behavior modification techniques that wouldn't fly nowadays, but they certainly don't come off as one-dimensional sadists, which, in my experience, is way more common in books set in orphanages. They read more like harried and overworked women who see their job as a job, rather than as a calling—the foundlings are their charges, not their foster children.
Beyond that, how is it? On one hand, sometimes the descriptions of and facts about life at the Foundling Hospital overshadow Hetty's personal story—it occasionally veers into Shoehorning ALLLLLL Of The Research Into The Story territory—but on the other, one of the things I love most about Jacqueline Wilson is her ability to create believable, original voices, over and over and over again. So despite some moments of Too Much Information, despite feeling a bit bloated, Hetty's totally voice saves the day:
I do so hope that I was bald when I was newly born in 1876. Suppose I came into the world with little red tufts. Oh, dearie, what a shock for my poor mother. Maybe she was tempted to call me Carrot or Goldfish or Marmalade.
She's plucky and bright and funny and loving and yes, fiery, and her yearning to be loved and to belong to a family is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
It's very definitely worth considering that some of the issues that bothered me are likely to sail right over the heads of the intended audience—while I found the historical information a bit overbearing, much of it is EXACTLY the sort of thing that would have mesmerized me as a tween.
Oh! And! It would make a great readaloud, as the chapters are quite episodic in nature.
NUTSHELL: Minor issues, but I'll definitely be reading the sequels.
Book source: Finished copy from the publisher.