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Cuckoo in the Nest by Fran Hill

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Review by Carol Sampson

Fran Hill’s experiences in foster care have often influenced her writing. Cuckoo in the Nest arose from her reflecting not only on her own circumstances but also on the impact she had on the families who opened up their home to her.

The story begins with 14 year old Jackie Chadwick starting what is supposed to be a short term stay with the Wall family. Bridget and Nick are new to fostering and it is also Jackie’s first time in foster care.

After Jackie’s mother died of cancer her father, struggling to cope with the loss of his wife and the responsibility of raising Jackie, turned to alcohol for solace. Jackie, as well as trying to maintain her grades at school, has become housekeeper and carer for her drunken father who, on occasion, has caused her physical harm. Despite their ups and downs they rub along okay until teachers at school notice that Jackie is sometimes a little battered and bruised. They feel obligated to report to Social Services, resulting in Jackie being placed in temporary foster care.

Bridget and Nick make a huge effort to welcome Jackie, sometimes to the detriment of the relationship with their daughter Amanda. The same age as Jackie, Amanda bypasses the opportunity to gain a friend and ally and instead is rude and resentful of Jackie’s intrusion into their home.

The Walls initially appear to be the perfect family to provide Jackie with the stability she has been denied but it soon becomes apparent that the family have issues that predate Jackie’s appearance. Jackie, with a maturity beyond her years, can see the different power struggles and discontent within her new foster family more easily than they see it themselves and it sometimes feels as though she is the grown-up in the family.

Jackie is a delightful character. She is intelligent, kind and compassionate and, although Amanda is determined to make Jackie’s life difficult, Jackie has empathy for her and often silently wills Bridget to think before she speaks to Amanda about issues she knows will upset her.

Although Jackie copes well it is clear she does not always find the adjustment to being in foster care easy and she uses her love of writing poetry to express her inner conflicts and turmoil. She is very witty and uses her sense of humour to cope with difficult or embarrassing situations, bringing a light-hearted tone to the story.

Fran Hill has focussed not just on the challenges faced by Jackie, catapulted into a foster home and trying to make the best of the situation she finds herself in, but also on the issues that arise for the Halls as they try to balance their family’s dynamics. Hill has very cleverly shown both sides of the experience through Jackie’s empathetic nature.

There is an interesting comment from Bridget after talking on the telephone with her friend Gloria - also a foster parent. She says to Jackie:

“They have two of their own children and now a foster son. They said to us, try it. It could be the making of us. And, now, here you are!”

This raises the question as to what motivated the Halls to decide on fostering. Were they, with their own personal troubles, hoping to restore their own family unit? Or perhaps to prove to themselves that they are good parents, despite their disintegrating relationship with Amanda.

Cuckoo in the Nest is a wonderful read, full of passion and humour. Fran Hill clearly understands people and the flaws underlying family life. It is a very entertaining story which also offers insight into the lives of those involved in the foster care system.

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