As a child and young teen Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors. I read her books as they appeared in the local town library or bookshop and one of my cherished possessions is the handwritten letter she wrote back to me when I was about 10. So when during discussion about the widespread opinion of her, commentators I know and respect were critical I was surprised and made a mental note of the title of the books which caused opposition.
Love Lessons is of course that book and the basic premise is Prue, a socially isolated 14 year old girl, starts at the local rough school where she doesn’t get on with anyone and “falls in love” with her art teacher, “Rax”. The problematic aspect is the degree to which this is reciprocated and the way the fallout from this is presented. Rax constantly acknowledges that what is going on is irresponsible of him but at no stage does he actually stop anything from happening in an effective manner. Any reasonable adult reading of this quite clearly gives the viewpoint that he is grooming her, and at the end when them running away together is in the balance its shown how well he did this.
In addition the school as ruling institution presumes that it is Prue who has led her teacher astray so must be sent away from the school. There is no acknowledgement that as her teacher and an adult he had the responsibility to prevent this from happening and instead encouraged it. As young adult fiction I would expect a bit more sympathy for Prue and at least some reflection that she’s happy with the outcome, rather than a “by chance” lifting of stress and a feeling that she’s been punished.
Interestingly Wilson handled this much better with Girls In Love where there was another crush on an art teacher but he sensitively and kindly reinstated boundaries. Its a shame that she then went on to write this.