The Illustrated Mum takes on a rare subject for children's literature: bipolar disorder. There are many books that aren't that great, but are heavily relied on because they discuss a topic unseen elsewhere. Fortunately, this book is incredibly well-written.
The Illustrated Mum tackles not only bipolar disorder, but also welfare, alcoholism, dyslexia, foster homes, and single parenthood. It's a mess of harsh topics, but author Jacqueline Wilson handles it effectively by displaying the actions through the eyes of a ten year old. Through this child's eyes, we see the manic depressive actions of Marigold, the mother, the mother's strained relationship with her oldest daughter, Star, and how the thought of social services can be just as scary to a child as monsters in the closet. Dolphin and Star often act as a maternal figure for their mother, an alcoholic who incessantly and at times terrifyingly pines after Star's father, a man who she knew for just a few weeks, but believes is her soul mate. When Star leaves Dolphin to take care of Marigold on her own, the 10 year old is forced to make decisions that would be difficult for an adult.
The entire time I read this novel I was thinking "wow." It is powerful and heartbreaking. I had never heard of this book until encountering it on "The List" and I am so grateful that it was included. I actually can't wait to recommend this book to children and young adults in the future.
I'd definitely recommend this book for middle school aged children who express an interest in realistic fiction and can stomach the sorrow that comes with such titles. It's not like Jodi Piccoult novel where the intention is to make you cry, but it does include a similar "there's always hope for the future" type of feel at the novel's conclusion.