Jilly Cooper, Bantam Press.
STAR RATING: 4/5
Wicked! is not quite the usual Jilly Cooper “bonkbuster”, writes Phil Frampton. Indeed, one reviewer complained that there were no explicit sex scenes until page 170. Instead, this still-humorous romp concentrates on more serious matters, centring on the fates of a high achieving public school and a failing comprehensive serving a council sink estate.
In a brave move into un-chartered territory for the writer, Cooper’s hero is a teenager who has spent 13 years in care. While many so-called writers demonise older children in care, Paris Alvaston is a bold and important attempt to carve a hero out of the teenage trauma of the care system.
After umpteen placements and an unsuccessful adoption attempt, Paris is living very unhappily in a children’s home. And yet despite suffering horrific abuse by male visitors, just having a stable placement allows him to form friendships at his sink school.
Paris is intelligent and reads copiously to escape his misery. The arrival of a new head teacher signals a turnaround for Paris who is encouraged to develop his love of literature. He thrives and is poached by the public school, where he flourishes further fending off bullies and making the rugby team. Fostered out to a mismatched middle-class family, he teeters on the edge of being rejected.
Adoption, bullying and education also figure as we are treated to an Upstairs, Downstairs version of Shameless, where kids survive while adults indulge in vice.
There are a couple of generalisations about care that jar, but in all, Cooper carries a strong message that youth when encouraged rather than stifled and exploited by adults can blossom.
Phil Frampton is author of The Golly in the Cupboard chronicling his time in care. To read Phil Frampton’s exclusive interview with Jilly Cooper visit www.communitycare.co.uk
Fiction: Wicked! – Jilly Cooper