Review by Linsey Painter.
Daisy Waterhouse has a lot going on. Her parents are getting a divorce, her best friend, Jess is moving to Australia, she has to move house, change schools and she’s got a secret, Daisy is losing her hair. There’s a shiny, smooth bald patch at the back of her head. For the first time in her life she is happy that her hair is nothing like the perfectly groomed hair of the Waterhouse girls in her favourite paintings. It’s wild and massively abundant so maybe having one bald patch won’t make any difference.
But when her hair starts clogging up the shower drain and her hairbrush, Daisy knows something big is happening. The only place she can reveal her true feelings in is her diary but secrets have a habit of being exposed. Will Daisy be strong enough when hers comes out into the open?
She has to be strong for her mum who is heartbroken after the divorce. She has to be strong for her dad who is clueless in his new life and she has to be strong for herself as she starts at a new school. Being strong can’t be that hard, can it?
But then there’s Kevin, the bully at Daisy’s new school who is determined to paint her as an outcaste. There’s Tamsin, her new neighbour who is ‘perfectly’ beautiful and now thinks Daisy is weirder than ever. Nina from Poland doesn’t speak much English and George scares everyone at school but sticks up for Daisy. Then there is Flame, her fellow eco-activist. Flame is different and cool and passionate about the same things Daisy is. And he looks at her eyes and not at her head.
As Daisy’s hair vanishes almost overnight she has to gather together all her courage to keep going to school everyday, keep smiling and keep being strong. Thank goodness she doesn’t have to do it on her own.
Daisy’s story is funny, heartbreaking, encouraging and real.
Alopecia is a serious condition that is hard to accept and hard to understand. Sue Hampton doesn’t sugar coat the difficulties but Daisy’s story is easy and enjoyable as well as serious.
Sue Hampton knows first hand what it is like to lose her hair. She does an amazing job of exploring Daisy’s experience through the emotional upheavals and triumphs. The Waterhouse Girl is such an enjoyable story. I myself have alopecia and it was refreshing to read a story that I could relate to on such a deep level.
I loved all the different characters in the story alongside Daisy. They are all on their own journey’s, their own ups and downs. Sue Hampton does a great job of creating real characters who are relatable and likeable.
I recommend The Waterhouse Girl to kids from 9 years old and up.
If you want to learn more about Sue Hampton and the books she writes, click HERE
A version of this review was originally posted on Linsey Painter’s website. For more information about Linsey, click HERE.
Interview with alopecian author, Sue Hampton
When did you start writing stories?
As soon as I could write! Then as a teacher I had no time to write for pleasure, although I did produce my own poems and plays to use in school. I started writing seriously – for publication – when I took a year out of teaching in 2005. But at that point I’d already written a story called THE WATERHOUSE GIRL one summer holiday.
Why did you write a story with a main character who has alopecia?
Partly because there wasn’t one! I had hidden under wigs for decades, telling few people my secret and, underneath my confident teacher exterior, living in fear of discovery. As I wrote the story one summer holiday, I cried and cried, but I think that was cathartic. When Michael Morpurgo, a great hero of mine, read it as a manuscript, I was overwhelmed by his praise but I wasn’t sure I wanted it out in the world with my name on it, blowing my cover. I never imagined that as a book it would make a difference to the real lives of others, with alopecia and with hair.
When did you first discover that you had alopecia?
Long ago, when I was 24. My thick hair developed a bald patch, then another, and four months later I had lost every hair on my body (Universalis).
Is Daisy’s story based on your own experience?
It’s fiction, but yes, I drew on my feelings. The book is very much written from the inside because Daisy narrates, sharing those emotions. But she isn’t me. When I’d finished writing I realised she was braver than me, and years later I knew that with her love in action, she was the person I wanted to become. She has great strength as well as vulnerability, so when I wrote the sequel, CRAZY DAISE, I knew I needed a very different character who is deeply challenged by hair loss because she defines herself by her appearance, so that Daisy can help her look at herself and the world in a new way.
What advice would you give to young girls who are learning how to live with alopecia?
I want to say alopecia is tough but it isn’t you. You are your spirit, personality, beliefs and actions in the world. Your body is a shell but find your best self, inside. Then alopecia will make you a bigger, better person because you won’t judge others who are different in some way. You’ll understand and support those people. There are so many ways to be human. And anyone who picks on you or lets you down because of alopecia must lack empathy so they will find relationships difficult. It’s their problem.
What are some of the hard things about having alopecia?
For a female, a supposed loss of femininity that is part of the challenge to self-esteem. I go bald now but I retrieved both. I’m at peace with the way I look. For me, the pretence and secrecy were terribly damaging because I’m such an open person and I was living in contradiction to my beliefs about our common humanity, because I didn’t feel equal to women with hair. But we are. Oh, and I hated wigs, however beautiful, because I have sensitive skin and they just made me hot and itchy. Abandoning mine in 2008 was powerfully liberating and the first day I stepped out without it I felt real joy. But it took me 28 years to feel ready and it’s not for everyone.
How has having alopecia been a positive experience for you?
It made me an author, which I’d wanted to be all my life. Going bareheaded into schools to lead writing workshops, I share my story and it’s bigger than hair. It’s about respect, identity, shared humanity and kindness so that’s a message everyone needs to hear. I’m also proving the power of stories to change lives. I make an impression, and students and teachers with hair often connect with the message for their own personal reasons. My three alopecia novels – more recently I created a boy with alopecia in a sci-fi book from the world of Doctor Who called AVATARS OF THE INTELLIGENCE – help readers with alopecia to feel less alone, and when I hear from them I’m very happy. It’s also hugely rewarding to go into school to support a student who has alopecia too.
How are you involved with Alopecia UK?
I was asked to be an Ambassador for the charity because of the impact on readers of THE WATERHOUSE GIRL back in 2013 and it’s been a joy. I make speeches at fundraisers, I raise money myself – I led an alopecia team on the quiz show Eggheads and we won £29,000 – but mostly I support children and young people with alopecia by visiting their schools. It’s thrilling being able to help.
How has being involved with AUK and connecting with other people with alopecia impacted you?
It’s a privilege to meet children with alopecia because they’re fantastic humans. They’re deeper and more aware because of the challenge of being the only one in the school. I try to keep in touch with them. These visits are a tiny percentage of my school bookings but they’re very special. As a person, I think I’m more confident now than I ever was with hair!