‘Love Frankie’, despite being Jacqueline Wilson’s 111th book, is her first book since publicly coming out as gay in April of this year, and is her first book to centre around an LGBTQ+ character. Wilson began writing in 1969 with her debut novel ‘Ricky’s Birthday’, but didn’t experience major success until 1991 with the release of ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’, which now transcends way beyond its original life on the pages, having garnered multiple TV shows and making Wilson a household name. The mass success of Tracy Beaker enabled further success for Wilson’s later series ‘Hetty Feather’, first released in 2009, which was made into both a TV show and a stage show. Wilson’s success was also cemented with her role as the Children’s Laureate from 2005 to 2007. So, to say she’s one of the most popular, respected and well known children’s authors in the UK would not be an exaggeration.
It’s for this reason exactly that this book is important. As a children’s book centred around a gay character, of which there are unfortunately few, that is written by a gay and widely celebrated author, it is almost revolutionary in its conception. Wilson states that she ‘put her heart and soul’ into the novel, and chose to write it knowing it ‘would shine a little light on my own private life.’ This care and deep devotion really shines through on the pages.
I, like many other people, grew up on Jacqueline Wilson books. I devoured those tales of plucky girls and family drama for most of my childhood, and they became important role models for me. So, to see this book, that looks and feels so much like other Jacqueline Wilson books, from the font on the front cover, to the family trouble storylines, but to see ‘falling in love for the first time – it’s a girl-girl thing’ in little rainbow letters is something really special. It’s hard to describe how much this would have meant to me as a child, given that it still makes me slightly emotional still despite being ten years older than the target audience for this book. To think of all the little girls who can pick up their favourite author and feel like maybe they’re not so unusual after all warms my heart.
This book sparkles with magic, both in its metallic rainbow hardcover, and in its honest depiction of a first crush, and a first connection with sexuality. The ‘gay’ storyline runs parallel along Wilson’s usual family drama storylines of divorced parents, illness and school bullying, for she has long tried to represent those children who can’t see themselves in the cookie-cutter, nuclear family tales, and slots it in as one piece in the tapestry of Frankie’s life. Everything about it is a relatable experience if you grew up going to a state school in England, and especially if you grew up knowing there was something ‘different’ about you, which places it much more firmly into reality, and makes young girls feel like if its possible in the story, it could be possible for them in reality also. Wilson doesn’t sugar-coat the experience, the novel deals with unaccepting family members, school fears and self-doubt, but nor is the novel all doom and gloom. Wilson seems to understand all too well that the queer youth need something uplifting, something truthful but validating, and that’s what this novel is; it’s a warm hug from the fairy godmother of children’s literature, and a little pat on the head that seems to tell the children; it’s okay.
Feature image source: Out Magazine