Published: Bunty #1652 (09 September 1989) – #1661 (11 November 1989)
Artist: Douglas Perry
Reprints: None known
Carol Hastings is a difficult girl and getting into wild company that her parents don’t approve of. When they remonstrate with her, she reacts against it by running away, thinking she’s unloved and unwanted. Eventually Carol gets fed up and decides to return home, but it’s too late. While out looking for her, Mum ran out into the road without looking, got run over, and is now seriously injured.
Dad takes this very badly and blames Carol for it. He says he will never forgive her, especially when it looks like Mum could become wheelchair-bound. Their relationship becomes extremely embittered. Dad lashes out at Carol at every turn. He never wastes an opportunity to say he blames her and will never forgive her, tells everyone in town it’s all her fault, and won’t even let Carol visit her mother in hospital.
Carol blames herself too and has a terrible guilt trip. Also, the shock has sobered her up and she resolves become more responsible and sensible. She does whatever she can think of to help her father (doing housework, cooking, helping to get his new business going, etc) in order to try to mend her relationship with him. But none of it makes any impression on him and he remains entrenched in his acrimony towards her. It does not help that sometimes things go wrong, such as Carol’s old crowd turning up at the worst time and getting Dad angry as he always disapproved of them.
Aunt Sally does not blame Carol for the accident and tries to help the situation. She tells Carol that when Dad was her age he ran away from home twice and was soon returned home, no harm done, which helps Carol to feel less guilty. However, reminding Dad of those incidents does not improve his attitude towards Carol.
What Mum thinks of where the blame lies for her accident is not known. Dad won’t let Carol see her, and when Carol finally gets the chance she is too ashamed to go.
Eventually Carol gets fed up with her embittered father and her efforts to reconcile going nowhere with him, and she turns to an act of rebellion. She and two friends go into town and cause trouble in a boutique. However, when the matter is reported to the headmistress they have to confess and take the punishment, which makes Dad even angrier. This time Carol lashes back at him, telling him how she’s tried so hard to prove to him that she’s improved, but all he does is hate her. She then locks herself in her room and him out, unable to take any more.
This has Dad wake up to how harsh he’s been and he goes to Mum for advice on how to put things right. As luck would have it, Carol’s birthday is imminent. So at Mum’s suggestion they throw a surprise party for her to patch things up, with Mum returning home for it. Dad tells Carol that from now on they will work things out together.
This is definitely one of the best emotional stories Bunty has ever published, but sadly not well remembered. It has intense moral lessons about the need for compassion and empathy rather than condemnation, and not let bitterness and hatred run away with you when someone makes a mistake that they already regret themselves, especially when it is a member of your own family. For if you do, you will only make that situation even worse, for both yourself and them and everyone else around you, when what’s really needed is working through the situation and trying to heal. There are so many situations in real life (as I have read in magazines) that parallel with Carol’s. A loved one just won’t respond to you, talk to you or show they still love you after some incident makes them fall out with you, no matter what you try to make things better or how much time passes. If only they would, as Mr Hastings did in the end, things would be so much better all around.
The story also turns several conventions in girls’ comics on their heads, which makes it an even more interesting and unconventional story that’s a bit different and refreshing. The first is the redemption theme. Carol starts off as a difficult, thoughtless girl who is asking for something serious to happen to make her a more thoughtful, mature girl. Usually this happens towards the middle or end of the story, but here it is right at the beginning, when the shock of Mum’s accident has Carol realise that she needs to be more responsible and sensible. She really tries, but it just goes nowhere with her embittered father. She gets frustrated and gives it up as hopeless. But instead of resorting to desperate measures as some protagonists have done, she vents her frustration with a stupid act and shouting back at her estranged father, which is a brilliant touch of realism. Ironically, this becomes the turning point in resolving the story.
The second is the protagonist running away from home. When a story uses this device, it usually comes at the climax of the story, when the protagonist has been pushed too far. But here it comes at the beginning of the story, and it drives the plot for the rest of the story instead of being the turning point in resolving it.
The third is the guilt trip theme and someone blaming the protagonist for some unfortunate incident. Often this is resolved with the person either finding out they were mistaken in blaming the protagonist or the protagonist redeems herself in some way, but neither of these things happen in this case.
Lastly, there is the resolution of the story. For once it does not come with the protagonist being pushed too far, running off, and have the people who drove her off realise what they have done. Nor does it occur with the protagonist getting knocked down by a car. Instead, it is resolved with a reconciliatory act on behalf of the father, once Carol’s anger has him realise what his bitterness has done.
Is Carol really to blame for her mother’s accident? It’s probably a matter of how you look at it. Carol did not do it directly or intentionally of course, and there was no way she would have known that running away would lead to it. Besides, as Aunt Sally says, running away or even contemplating it is something kids do frequently, and Dad is guilty of it himself. Directly, it was because Mum was not looking when she crossed the road, but that was because she was distraught, and Carol did trigger in motion the events that led to it. Dad blames Carol, Carol blames herself, Aunt Sally does not blame Carol at all, and what Mum thinks is not recorded, but when she reappears in the story it looks like she holds no grudges. Is it really Carol’s fault through what lawyers call causation, or was it just one of those things and extremely rotten luck?
One thing is certain: it does more harm than good to harbour hatred over the incident, and forgiveness and serious counselling are far better for everyone concerned.