This book review is inevitably going to contain SPOILERS. Of this book (KATY by Jacqueline Wilson) and the original WHAT KATY DID by Susan Coolidge.
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I was trying to describe What Katy Did to someone last week.
Well... I'd like to see him describe What Katy Did without explaining she fell off the swing.
"I think it even says it on the cover." I pointed out. I checked. It did.
Added to that I don't think I have ever known of one single copy of What Katy Did without it containing a picture of Katy on her swing. I mean, lets face it, it's not just grown-up readers of What Katy Did who find it predictable. I think I was about ten or eleven the first time I read it; and I think I knew pretty much THE ENTIRE plot line by the end of the first page.
If anyone's ever read Heidi, you know girls in classics generally don't stay confined to their wheelchairs forever. Medical miracles seem to happen a lot to little girls in old books. I'm not complaining; I like a good happy ending.
What Katy Did, is an excellent example, of how it's not the destination that matters, its the journey.
The first time I read it, I could have probably looked at the cover, read the blurb, maybe the first page for assurance, and then blagged to anyone that I had read it. I didn't need to REALLY read it. I already knew what happened.
But that's okay. I liked reading What Katy Did. As an eleven year old, and when I read it last month. I'm kind of glad I used my Waterstones rewards to 'buy' it, because I'll probably enjoy reading it again sometime.
It doesn't matter that it has a totally transparent plot. That is not the point of that book.
That is even more so with Katy, the 'modern version', by the author of Tracy Beaker Jacqueline Wilson.
I just checked my version of What Katy Did and the library copy of Katy. Katy is just over twice the size of What Katy Did. Thats a lot more story to tell.
If What Katy Did is about the journey, Katy is about the trek, the hike, the expedition.
What Katy Did is lovely little book about a colourful character who has an accident, learns to be a good person despite her hardships, and then is 'rewarded for her good behaviour' almost.
It's a classic for a reason, it's AWESOME.
Katy is not a lovely little book. It's, like you would expect from Jacqueline Wilson, a slightly more true-to-life version. But don't worry, this Katy still gets her happy ending, even if she isn't 'fixed.'
Katy is a real life girl. She has real life brothers and sisters, and has a stepmother instead of an overly pious aunt. Helen isn't a cousin she's never met, she's one of her Dad's patients. She's much more fleshed out than the original Katy. So are her friends, her brothers and sisters. Her life is a lot more fleshed out. Her Dad is a lot more present. She IS Katy. Just a Katy from the 21st Century - and so there is a lot more to her than can be expected from a book written in the 19th Century.
At first, I did feel like Katy was just What Katy Did rewritten, the details and the settings changed. Basically, What Katy Did 'modernised' to try and convince reluctant readers that classics are good. For the first few chapters, there really is no difference in the story. It is purely a modernized version of the original.
But then you realize it's not quite, there are little details that are added. I guess now Katy has more to loose, you see more of her life. More of her feelings towards Izzie; there is a reason why she is so detested which gives Katy more to overcome than is the case of just a nuisance Aunt who thrives on neatness. There's a fallout with Cecy. There's a few more characters, in Eva and Ryan.
There's a story before the fall, instead of the content of the book before the fall being there solely to lead up to that point. There is also a better lead up to Katy's fall, with her bad day being more than just a bit of contrariness, but full of fully formed emotions.
And then here, is the bit where Katy really comes into a life of it's own, as Katy follows a more realistic path. Katy spends weeks in hospital, not at home surrounded by her family. There is uncertainty and ambulances and surgery.
And there's the knowledge that she isn't going to walk again.
And that's fine - that's what this book is about. It's about a girl who falls of a rope swing and damages her spine, not a girl for whom a miracle worked a couple of years later.
Katy spends a lot of time in hospital, and although I've never been in anything like as horrific as Katy's situation, I have been in hospital (and for more than an overnight stay) and I have to say, it's pretty spot on (although I never had any visiting hours, that did strike me a UTTERLY bizarre. I didn't realize those existed for Childrens/Young Adult wards. Well... I'm very lucky I guess.) Toast late at night while chatting to a nurse? Totally... People having bad days? Oh yes. Not eating/hungry/want to stay in bed/want to be anywhere other than bed/nice nurses/not that great nurses/awkward friends/too enthusiastic family/missing family. It was all there. And friendships. I'm glad Dexter is there, because there are times that no one can understand you and be there for you more than the person in the bed next to you (or bay next to you.)
But the book really comes into its own when Katy is let out of hospital. It starts with that first journey home, with the struggle that is getting home, and the worry that hometime, after all that longing, came just a bit too soon.
For the 19th Century Katy, staying in bed (or a reclining chair) for two years was totally fine.
But this is not the 19th Century. We're gonna need a wheelchair (or two). Although I do kind of wish Katy had had a little more struggle with hers. It would have made me feel a bit better about the fact I never really did learn to push myself... This Katy had to learn to get in and out of cars, finding the right clothes (and shoes), getting on buses, not being able to get up stairs (if you become unable to walk overnight, your house doesn't suddenly turn into a bungalow. TRUST ME.)
She had to deal with the range of reactions from other people. The whole range. People being wary of her, people treating her like she was mentally incapable (and just incapable altogether.) Of people who she barely knew before hand suddenly becoming her supposed best friend. People who try and fit her into socioty by ignoring her wheelchair, and people who try and be too accommodating. But also those who just get it right.
I think the bit I liked best was the bit where Katy went back to school. And not just the school of pain, but a real, mainstream, not accessible school. With teachers and other pupils. And all the struggles that come with starting a new school plus a load of extra ones. Even being allowed to go to school was a challenge for Katy, and I think my favorite scene in the whole book was the high five between Katy and Dad after wearing down the headteacher into letting her attend.
This book, is all about a girl called Katy, who falls of a rope swing, and then learns that being in a wheelchair does not stop her having a life, and doesn't mean she has to hide in her bedroom for the next forever. She faces challenges, some set by herself, some set by society, and she does it all as a fully fleshed character with a range of emotions. But it's not a gloomy book, its not depressing. Its a true to life account of how a girl, and her family, OVERCOME those challenges.
I love What Katy Did and always well. I think Katy is amazing. Do I have a favorite? Not really. They're both awesome books, but in very different ways. They're written 150(ish) years apart, for different audiences, and in the way, they're very different books. Each special in its own way. I'm also not sure which one I would suggest to be read first. I guess that would depend on you (or the child as both books intended audience is). What Katy Did is half the size, so although Katy did take me longer to read, it's a modern book and so is a 'quicker', 'easier' read, so they probably even out in difficulty.
They're both good books, and both definitely deserve their place in the 'read' list. A modernization of a classic is, like a movie adaptation, terrifying to lovers of the original. But What Katy Did lovers need not fear, Jacqueline Wilson has definitely done Katy proud.
Also, can I just say, if I grow up to be Miss Lambert, that's perfectly fine with me.