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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Sapphire Battersea by Jacqueline Wilson

This is a fascinating, funny and moving Victorian-era novel featuring Hetty Feather. Hetty Feather is a Foundling Hospital girl and was given her name when she was left there as a baby by her mother. But she always longed to be called Sapphire, after her sapphire-blue eyes. When she is reunited with her mother, she hopes her new name, Sapphire Battersea, will also mean a new life! But life doesn't always go as planned...Follow the twists and turns of Hetty's adventure as she goes out to work as a maid for a wealthy man. She longs to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart Jem - but also finds a new sweetheart, Bertie the butcher's boy, who whisks her away from her household chores to experience the delights of the funfair! But Hetty's life may also take a darker path. Can she cope with the trials ahead?

This is the second book about Hetty Feather, a girl who grew up in a Foundling Hospital, after being left there by her mother. It follows on from the first book, Hetty Feather, and as announced at the end of Sapphire Battersea, will be followed by the last book in the trilogy soon. 

I had not read Hetty Feather but was able to pick up the story very quickly,with the first chapter acting as a quick catch up for readers. 

This book starts with Hetty Feather, aged fourteen, and ready to leave the Foundling Hospital and enter the big wide world of work. She has been found a job as a servant in the house of Mr Charles Buchanan, where she would help his present staff, Mrs Briskett the cook and Sarah, the parlourmaid, to run the house. Mr Buchanan is a writer and Hetty is very interested in his work and hopes he can help her with her 'memoirs'.

The story is set in Victorian England, where most houses had staff and there was a real hierarchy within the town. The book, along with Hetty Feather, would make a great resource for teachers when looking at Victorian England and the lives of children around that time, in workhouses along with the Foundling Hospital. The author, Jacqueline Wilson, has talked about her fascination with this era, and it comes through in this book. There has been much research done before this book was written and the details in the book are superb.

I enjoyed the book but found some of the story to be unsuitable for younger children. Sarah, the parlourmaid, visits a spiritualist-medium and is 'visited' by her dead mother. I thought that this subject was sensitively discussed within the book and gave a brief overview, before Hetty discovered the truth about the spiritualist being a fake. There was also a visit to 'Mr Clarenddon's Seaside Curiousities' where Hetty began to work, and uncovered the secrets. Because of these two subjects, I would recommend this book to be suitable for children over the age of 10 years.

Although there are dark subjects covered within the book, there are also many happy times throughout the book. Hetty remains in constant contact with her mother, and enjoys writing letters to her, sharing her good news and achievements with her. Hetty is a very head strong young lady, knows what she wants and does all she can to achieve them. Throughout the book, Hetty comes up against many people who look at her and think she is a young, weak girl who will not be able to maintain the high standards of her employer and his staff, however she does and also manages to gain further work in rewriting her employers manuscript, earning her postage stamps to enable her to keep in regular contact with her mother. There is also her relationship with Bertie, the butchers lad, who develops an instant soft spot for Hetty as soon as he sets eyes on Hetty, taking her out on her Sunday afternoon free time, showing her parts of London, and it is during this time that Hetty is able to be a young girl again, playing in parks and splashing in water. I think this is a positive role model for young girls, showing them that they can do things they want if they try. 

I would recommend this book to fans of Jacqueline Wilson, although due to some of the subject matter, parents should be prepared for questions. It will be one of those books that are talked about in the playground and classrooms across the country very soon.

Thank you to Michael from The School Run Forum and the publishers, Doubleday, for sending me the book to review.

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