Portrayal | Friendship | Jacqueline Wilson | Best Friends | 20th July 2022 | Virtual Wire
Friendship is one of the most popular and much-appreciated themes that we see in children’s literature. Jacqueline Wilson in many of her children’s novels portrays the significance of friendship in the life of teenagers.
We see this depiction of a strong bond between two friends in Wilson’s Secrets, Midnight, Best Friends and Vicky Angel, among her other works. The loss of your best friend, being separated from them, and the impact it has on a teenager is another vital theme that Jacqueline Wilson addresses in a few of her books. Best Friends is one such children’s novel where Wilson takes us through the deep-rooted friendship and parting of two teenagers, Gemma and Alice. It sheds light on the significance of friendship in a child’s life and the parental role involved in it.
Best Friends is written from the perspective of the protagonist, Gemma. At the very beginning of the book, we see Gemma saying, “Alice and I are best friends. I’ve known her all my life (7).” "What makes a best friend different from other friends is a special caring based on enjoying that person’s company more than others, a unique knowledge based on more confidential intimacy than with others, and a commitment based on the willingness to self-sacrifice for each other" (Pickhardt). Born on the same day, in the same hospital, Gemma and Alice grew up together and they share a very special bond. Gemma goes on to elaborate on each aspect of their friendship where despite their notable differences and contrasting personalities, they have both been best friends from the beginning and could not imagine life without the other. They tell each other everything including their fears and secrets and are always there for one another through thick and thin.
When Alice’s father gets a better job opportunity in Scotland, the family decides to move there permanently. Alice and Gemma are both devastated when they come to know about it. The reality of the situation strikes them hard as they both realise that they are going to be separated and would not be able to see each other often, as Scotland is a long way from where they live now. Alice’s mother, Karen, is ecstatic about moving to Scotland. Neither of Alice’s parents seems to consider her opinion or feelings on the matter. On the other hand, Gemma’s parents at least try to understand how hard it would be for the two girls if they were two be separated. In their respective ways, Gemma’s mother, father and two brothers try to talk to Gemma, comfort her and cheer her up. Even then, they are unable to fully understand the depth of what Gemma is going through. The situation is worse for Alice who bitterly tells Gemma, “We can’t do anything. We’re just children. We don’t count (36).” When Alice tries to tell her parents that she would miss Gemma terribly, they just laugh at her and say that she would make new friends. On many occasions Gemma and Alice speak of how no one seems to care about what she and Alice want. "Just because we’re kids you think we haven’t got feelings (70-71)”, Gemma says in one such instance.
The two teenage girls have distinct ways of dealing with the news that Alice is moving to Scotland. While Alice lets out her emotions by crying, Gemma can be seen taking out her anger and grief on those around her. Taking matters into their own hands, Gemma and Alice even try to run away together, in a final attempt to stay together. However, their attempt is in vain as they were caught before they could even board the train. Both Gemma and Alice’s parents fail to realise the underlying depth of the issue as to why the two girls were triggered to the extent that they even tried to run away. Pickhardt tells us that in such situations, parents can play a helpful role in a number of ways. They can provide empathetic support, motivate other personal interests or social participation, and they can also provide transitional companionship until their child has had time to recover from being separated from their best friend.
Although the runaway attempt was Alice’s idea, Gemma is wrongly accused by both families. Karen even bars Gemma from coming to visit Alice in Scotland. "When a geographic change separates best friends, the challenge is to prevent the distance from making them grow apart. It is difficult to keep the usual contact as they no longer share the common social and school community, and they do not have the easy access to seeing each other and talking together" (Pickhardt). In spite of the restrictions placed by Karen, Gemma tries her best to stay in close contact with Alice, so as to keep their friendship going. They try to send letters and also email each other whenever possible. "When best friends keep in close touch while living at a distance, they inadvertently build the foundation for a lifelong friendship. For this reason, it is essential that parents support the communication and visits it takes to keep the friendship thriving" (Pickhardt). Karen is oblivious to her daughter's mental turmoil as she does not even try to understand how Alice feels about parting with Gemma.
After Alice moves to Scotland, Gemma becomes really sad and frustrated. Eventually, though, she becomes good friends with a boy called Biscuits. In an attempt to comfort Gemma, we see Biscuits trying to keep her happy and busy by teaching her how to bake. Here too, Jacqueline Wilson depicts a blossoming friendship that takes a turn for the better. On the other hand, however, we see that Alice is not fortunate enough to find a good friend at her new school in Scotland. Karen forces her to be friends with a girl called Flora, but it does not end well. "Most teenagers hope they could be so fortunate, but not everyone finds a best friend. While it is a great gift when it occurs, there is significant pain when it is lost" (Pickhardt). While Gemma is trying to cope with her best friend’s departure, we see Alice grappling in a new school, with unfamiliar people, in a completely alien environment where she is left to get by on her own.
There is a unique bond between best friends where each one feels and experiences part of a shared identity and is a part of one another. In certain cases, there may even be a sense of mutual understanding without being told what is in each other’s minds and hearts. Being best friends, they usually go on holding to the strong belief their friendship is forever, and that they would never find someone as good as their best friend (Pickhardt). In one instance, we see a broken-hearted Alice telling Gemma that she only wants her as a best friend and no one else. After Alice goes to Scotland, Gemma is wary of making new friends and does not want to replace Alice with anyone else. It even takes her quite some time to warm up to Biscuits. Friends are very important for the healthy development of a child as an individual. Ferrer-Chancy and Fugate tell us that friendship provides children with a lot more than just playmates. A good friendship aids in the emotional and moral development of a child. They learn how to control their emotions, as well as act in response to others' feelings. It helps them to develop the ability to think through and negotiate different situations that may come up in a relationship.
In her introduction to the book Best Friends, Jacqueline Wilson talks of how grown-ups often fail to understand how devastating it is to lose a best friend. She speaks of how one might either find a new friend or end up never finding the right person. Best Friends informs the child reader about the significance of strong friendships in an individual’s life. It is a story that might make the young audience wish for a beautiful and deep friendship like that of Alice and Gemma In a double address, this children’s book also points out the vital role played by parents in understanding the friendship that their child considers precious, and helping them to build and maintain this friendship in a healthy manner. Best Friends by Jacqueline Wilson is a work that reminds young readers of how distance is never a hindrance to true friendship, as long as you face all challenges and take the effort to keep your friendship alive and strong.