Like all Millennials, particularly those like me who didn’t tend to get out much, I grew up reading Jacqueline Wilson’s eclectic oeuvre of tragically depressing yet addictive stories about kids on the fringes of society. Maybe this is why our generation grew up to love Corbyn so much? That is definitely something that needs to be explored. But I digress. So yes, here I was, twenty four and way too old to be reading books with illustrations, but the announcement that there was going to be a new Tracy Beaker story immediately reverted me back to being ten years old and immersing myself in a great book for hours on end without the guilt of ‘I really should hoover today’ or ‘I should probably use this time to go to the gym’. Ah, youth.
As is the case with many sequels, this excitement also came with a degree of apprehension. ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’, ‘The Dare Game’ and ‘Starring Tracy Beaker’ were all released in a moderately paced succession, but it’s been twelve years since we last checked in with Tracy and Cam and, frankly, I was a bit worried that this one was going to feel forced and ruin the magic of the first three; but for the first time in recorded history – I was wrong.
We first meet grown-up Tracy through the eyes of her daughter Jess Beaker, who has all of Tracy’s well-hidden good qualities – she’s thoughtful and puts everyone else’s needs before her own, which I think Tracy does deep down but it’s usually masked by her harsh outer shell. Jess is how I imagine the love child of Tracy and Peter Ingham would be, and given how this installment ends, that may well become a reality if there is a further book…
Tracy thankfully hasn’t lost her feisty streak – even as a mother she still hates authority, shouts at teachers and flies completely off the handle whenever she sees red. Having said that, she is fiercely protective of her daughter and very aware of how Carly treated her so she steers vigorously away from that cycle for Jess which adds so much depth to Tracy’s character and reminds you that her vulnerability is still there beneath the angst.
Tracy then falls head over heels for a boy (I know, ick!), and is convinced this is her ticket to the life she always dreamed her mum would give her with fame, fortune and even the pink Cadillac she’s dreamed of since book one. Nice touch there, Ms Wilson! I had reservations about the idea of Tracy being all loved up with a boyfriend, it just didn’t seem realistic to me and I went into this book with great cynicism towards that. However, trying not to reveal too many spoilers here, the boyfriend she has is actually a character we’ve met before – one I always thought there was something a little bit ‘off’ about when we first met him in ‘The Dare Game’. Throughout their relationship, Tracy’s guard is gradually let down and it was so endearing to see that side of her in such a big dose. It seemed like as she’s become an adult Tracy started to lose that sixth sense she always seemed to have about people’s character and her ability to spot a potential baddie within seconds, but thankfully, this is a quality she passed on to Jess – who is not so easily fooled.
Although this book would still be a great read as a standalone, it’s far more special for readers who are familiar with Tracy’s journey as all the previous significant characters make a return either directly or by reference from Tracy or another principal character. And the return of the Mickey Mouse alarm clock was just a nostalgia overdose for me, along with the several other subtle nods to Tracy’s formative yeas.
Naturally Cam is still here as the port of sensibleness in Tracy’s chaotic life, and her relationship with Jess is absolutely perfect and so touching to read. Cam actually has a more significant role in this installment, and becomes more of a character in herself rather than being formed through Tracy’s eyes from the pedestal on which she placed Cam after their first meeting; and her role is a really important consistency for the readers who have followed Tracy’s story from the start. Having Tracy transition into an adult without anyone from her younger years staying in her life wouldn’t really have worked, and also it would be difficult for fans of the series to believe that Cam wouldn’t have remained a part of Tracy’s story. There are some interesting developments with Cam’s character as well, and one pretty big one which is quite amusing as it is discovered through Jess’ observations, but Jess is a bit too naive to understand quite what this storyline implies. This part actually made me really want to go back and re-read the first three, in case this was implied earlier and I just didn’t pick up on it because I, too, was naive when I first read them.
As with all the classic Jacqueline Wilson books, the darker themes like poverty, bullying and to an extent domestic violence were still very prominent, but are narrated through Jess’ innocent perspective so it is somewhat softened and doesn’t feel like a really depressing, gloomy story. And, as ever, you’re still always rooting for Tracy to come out on top even when she is making some monumental mistakes. But of course, as she always does, Tracy comes out on top in the end despite all the struggles, and I love her even more for it. As much as I would love this series to go on and on because Tracy Beaker feels like an old friend with whom I grew up, the ending of this book is so fitting and satisfying that I don’t know where another one could feasibly go – thought I’m sure if anyone can manage it it’s Jacqueline Wilson. Tracy’s reunion with Peter really signified to me that she has come full circle and done the growing up that she needed to in order to appreciate him for the friend he always tried to be for her; and, wherever that relationship goes, it remains a perfect end point for Tracy and Jess’ journey. Plus, it is always nice to leave the door open for readers to make up their own mind about what Tracy might do next.