Book review

Dustbin Baby by Jacqueline Wilson (2001)

Do you think you know who you are? How would you describe yourself? Is it important, for instance, to mention your family in your description of yourself - what your parents are like, and your brothers and sisters, and what part of the world you all come from? Perhaps you are very artistic, just like your mum? Or sporty, or good at maths? Are you blue-eyed, like your dad? Or left-handed, or short-sighted? Perhaps you are very fond of music because it has always been played in your home, ever since you can remember?

Of course, If you are unlucky enough not to know anything about your natural family, it doesn't mean that you haven't inherited your fair share of gifts and attributes. It just means that you have to work a lot harder to find out about yourself. You have to work hard to find out who you are. That's how it is for April in this story:

I always hate my birthdays. I don't tell anyone that. Cathy and Hannah would think me seriously weird. I try so hard to fit in with them so they'll stay friends with me. Sometimes I try too hard and I find myself copying them. It's OK if I just yell 'YAY!' like Cathy or dance hunched-up Hannah-style. Ordinary friends catch habits from each other easily enough. But every now and then I overstep this mark in my eagerness. I started reading exactly the same books as Cathy until she spotted what I was doing.
'Can't you choose for yourself, April?' she said. 'Why do you always have to copy me?'
'I'm sorry, Cathy.'
Hannah got irritated too when I started styling my hair exactly like hers, even buying the same little slides and bands and beads.
'This is my hairstyle, April,' she said, giving one of my tiny beaded plaits a tug.
'I'm sorry, Hannah.'

Actually, it's even worse for April. There is one thing that April does know about her real mother. She knows that her mother didn't want her, and dumped her in the dustbin as soon as she was born.

So, April's birthday is always a bad moment for her. This year, on her fourteenth birthday, she finds the burden of her unknown past intolerable. Neither her new, and likeable, foster mother, nor her new friends at her new school, can really help April through this because April needs to revisit her past.

In an emotional mist, April bunks off school for the day, and revisits all the old places of her childhood. She visits old foster homes, her adopted mother's grave, her old special school, old friends, all the time travelling further and further into her traumatic past. What she really wants to do is to arrive back at dustbin alley, at the moment when she was born and separated from her mother.

She can't quite do that, of course, but she gets pretty close. Read the book to find out ...

What can I read next?

Jacqueline Wilson has written plenty of books, aimed at various age groups. In this story, April herself is fourteen, but I don't think you need to be quite that old to read and enjoy Dustbin Baby. If you want to read more Jacqueline Wilson, you will find her in the library or bookshop. Just flick through first and make sure that any book you pick up is aimed at the right level for you. You might like to look at these:

If you enjoy the straightforward style of Jacqueline Wilson, you might like to look at something by Malorie Blackman:

You might also enjoy looking at something by Anne Fine. She has written many books about real life people and their problems, again for a range of ages. Check that the title is right for you:

If you are interested in April's disturbed background, and how she is trying to deal with it, you might like to look at this book by Malachy Doyle. It is aimed at fairly mature readers:

One final suggestion. You might enjoy this one by Michelle Magorian:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Dustbin Baby features in these lists: