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Friday, 27 April 2018

Vicky Angel: A metaphor for schizophrenia?

I just re-read a Jacqueline Wilson book I haven't read in years, called Vicky Angel. At the time of reading it - I must have been nine or ten - I took it very literally. 'Vicky Angel' is about a girl named Jade whose best friend Vicky dies in an accident and then comes back as a ghost. It's clear now that Jade is just hallucinating Vicky's ghost out of grief, but while reading the book I thought about going one step further. My theory is: what if Vicky was never real at all, and Jade has schizophrenia? What if Vicky was Jade's imaginary alter-ego - like Tyler Durden in Fight Club - and represents how Jade wishes to see herself?

I think there are little clues all over the book that could support this theory. The first clue is around the beginning of the book. Jade discusses how she wants to be an actress, and that she likes to act out characters from soaps and movies around her living room. There is a section where she said she sometimes acts out people she knows, and always ends up acting out Vicky:

'I close my eyes and think about her voice and when I start saying something I sound just like her. I stay Vicky even when I open my eyes. I can feel her long bright hair bouncing about my shoulders and my green eyes glittering and I'm smiling Vicky's wicked grin. I dance up and down the room until I catch sight of myself in the big mirror above the fireplace and see my own sad pale skinny self. A ghost girl. I always feel much more alive when I'm being Vicky.'

Throughout the story, Jade appears to have a low opinion of herself. She is described as skinny, flat-chested, quiet and shy, and describes her hair as 'rat's tails.' Vicky by contrast is beautiful, outgoing, popular, with thick auburn hair, and everyone in the school loves her. Jade's friendship with Vicky isn't entirely healthy - similar to a lot of friendships between characters in Jacqueline Wilson books. The most obvious comparison is Ruby and Garnet in 'Double Act.' Like Garnet, Jade is meek and quiet, whereas Ruby is bold and brash. The difference is, whilst Garnet compares herself to Ruby, she doesn't describe Ruby as perfect in a way to almost 'idealize' her. She is aware that Ruby has her flaws, such as being very naughty, and doesn't constantly crow about how beautiful she is considering they look the same. Also, they are twins whereas Vicky and Jade are best friends, and twins tend to be extremely close by genetic default.

When Vicky 'dies', Jade is prepared to give up her entire life just to be with and please Vicky forever. She appears to struggle to do anything without Vicky; she can't do her school work without her, she can't make decisions without her - Vicky is very bossy and often decides what they do - and even when Jade wants to join the Drama Club at the start of the book, she is afraid to do it without Vicky. Vicky commandeers Jade's life; after she dies she wants all of her attention and won't let her befriend others. In chapter 10 Jade states: 'It's not really so very different from the way it was when Vicky was alive. She wanted all my attention then. She's got it now.' When schizophrenics have hallucinations, the people they envision tend to control what they do, until it feels like they take over their lives.

Naturally, this theory of Jade being schizophrenic raises some questions, as the other characters all view Vicky as someone who existed. Vicky has parents and lots of people seemed upset when she died. Seeing as the entire story is told from Jade's perspective, it is possible that a lot of this is happening in her head. It's possible that those around her are aware she has schizophrenia, and try to make allowances for her as it slowly gets out of hand. Perhaps Vicky's 'death' was really a sign that Jade finally needed to learn to overcome her dependence on this person she had imagined for so long. When Jade is having bereavement counselling, that could really be counselling for her schizophrenia, and for her to try and learn to live a normal healthy life without being bossed around by this imaginary girl.

Jade's home life isn't all peachy; she lives in a run down estate, and her parents don't seem to care much about her - Jade describes them as not bothering much about her or going around like she isn't really there. Perhaps the strain of having a daughter with schizophrenia became too much for her parents and they didn't know how to cope, and maybe they tried to get her help but it didn't work, so they allowed Jade to indulge her fantasies of her friend Vicky and ended up drifting away from their daughter. But now that Vicky is 'dead' they finally realise there may be some steps their daughter can overcome in order to say goodbye to Vicky forever. Jade's parents also seem on the brink of separation - her mum has an affair with someone else, and her dad is described as being prone to violent outbursts.

By contrast, Vicky's parents are described as extremely loving and affectionate - her mother gives Vicky lots of treats and her dad is very kind and soft and never gets angry. Jade also prefers their house, describing it as a lot grander, implying Vicky's family are better off. It's possible that Jade envisioned everything she felt she was lacking from her home life onto Vicky's; loving parents who had a comfortable income. Vicky's parents may not be real, or they could just be some other couple who are friends with Jade's parents. But either way, it's likely that Jade pictures Vicky's life as everything she wishes she had.

At times Jade feels like she truly is sounding like Vicky, such as at the funeral when she reads Vicky's essay 'Reasons to be cheerful.' She reads it as if she is Vicky herself, again a sign that Vicky exists within her head and is how she wants to be. Jade longs to be beautiful, confident, popular and showy - she dreams of being an actress, yet feels she lacks the 'glamour.' As she wants to be an actress it also makes sense she would invent this character Vicky, the dream-girl she really wants to be. Everybody else at school - the students and teachers - are weary around Jade, even stating she was a bit odd before Vicky's 'death.' They seem to worry about her, and when Jade has her outbursts she is forgiven, almost as if they are used to her being erratic.

Regarding Vicky's death, I wonder if actually it was another student from the school who died, hence the flowers and the funeral, but in Jade's head she is thinking it is Vicky who is dead because her entire world revolves around Vicky. Vicky dying is the first stage Jade needs to overcome her, in order to gain her independence as a person. Finally at the end of the book we see Vicky disappear; Jade has accepted Vicky is not real, and that she needs her own life, her own career and her own friends, and she needs to re-connect with her parents. I believe this is the story of a schizophrenic girl's emotional growth, and how her mental wellbeing improves over time. I like to think Jade gets some proper help and realises she can blossom on her own. She views herself as boring and dreary and Vicky as perfect, but the truth is we are all a mix of good and bad.

What do you think? Did you read 'Vicky Angel' as a kid? Do you think it could possibly be a story about schizophrenia? Let me know!

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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