1890s, England. Eight-year-old Ellen-Jane Potts’ family is very poor. It’s a struggle to make ends meet, particularly as her father drinks. Her mother is dead, her older brothers are horrible to her, and she’s too small to help her older sister. The only thing she can do is acrobatics.
Then, one awful day, her father sells her for five guineas to Beppo, the clown from Tanglefield’s travelling circus – and things get a whole lot worse. Beppo renames her Diamond and forces her to do ever more difficult and dangerous acrobatic tricks, and beats her when she tries to run away. How can Diamond survive in such a cruel world?
What Jacqueline Wilson is very good at is depicting children who find love and support even in the most desperate circumstances. She shows that an unhappy child like Diamond can create her own family, knitted together from all sorts of people. The aging equestrienne, Madame Adelaide, takes Diamond under her wing, just like a real Granny would. The kindly Mr Marvel helps her overcome her fear of forward somersaults, and she especially loves Mavis, his littlest monkey. And, best of all, she makes friends with the wonderful and brave Hetty Feather, aka Emerald Star, who takes over as ringmaster and shows Diamond how to stand up to bullying.
And Emerald Star teaches her that, if you are proactive, courageous, and willing to work hard, you can escape from a difficult situation with the help of true friends.
I enjoyed this book. Though Diamond’s early life is horribly tough, and life in the circus is not much better, it probably echoes how many poor Victorian children had to live. And I loved the glimpse into circus life with the lions, the elephants, sea-lions and acrobatic monkeys. Girls of eight plus should love it.