Neville, Emily Cheney
Emily Cheney Neville 1919–
American novelist and journalist. Neville was one of the first young adult writers to choose settings other than the affluent suburbs or bucolic countryside and characters other than fair-haired kids with creamy complexions and perfect orthodontia. Her first novel accepted for publication, It's Like This, Cat, is a sensitive, low-keyed look at an ordinary teenage boy in New York City. Directed especially to a male readership, it was unusual for its accurate rendering of teenage dialogue and slang and was praised for its perceptive representation of the feelings of an average teenager towards his family and everyday life. Neville wrote the book as a change from the standard boy-and-dog stories of her youth, and as a reaction against her childhood hatred of cats. It was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1964. Neville grew up in a situation quite different from any of her own somewhat urbane characters. She came from a large, closeknit family in a small town, and had only her cousins as companions until the age of eleven. Her bittersweet autobiographical novel, Traveler from a Small Kingdom, describes her discovery of the outside world. Neville's understanding of the importance of being accepted in society has come through strongly in her works, due perhaps to her own experience. The Seventeenth Street Gang describes a group of urban children dealing with acceptance and rejection, and presents an analysis of some of the internal problems within a group mentality. Neville has brought a strong sense of social justice to her books, and has recently begun a career as a lawyer. Her Berries Goodman has as its theme the dawning of the existence of prejudice on a boy in a suburban environment. Neville has consistently refused to sugar-coat the incidents she describes in her works, and has been criticized for her unsubtlety, as well as her creation of stereotyped characters. She claims that "the real world … is so much more beautiful than a rigid world of good and bad. It is also more confusing. I think the teenage reader is ready for both." She admits her characters are "somewhat fragmentary," since she lets her dialogue define them. Although some of this dialogue sounds somewhat dated today, the situations she describes for her characters are representative of the universal teenage experience. Her mission as an author, Neville states, "is to show the reader, not how great a hero he could become, because I don't think most people are going to become heroes, but simply how hard it is to be a plain decent human being." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)
A middle-class, 14-year-old cliff dweller, Dave Mitchell, roams from the Bronx Zoo to the Fulton Fish Market to Coney Island [in "It's Like This, Cat"]. His experiences, although not melodramatic, violent or grim, are the essence of today—shy dates with a girl, friendship with an older boy, affection for a pet, learning to understand Dad. Written in an understated, humorous style, this is superb—the best junior novel I've ever read about big-city life. (p. 2)
Robert Hood, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1963 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 12, 1963.
[In Berries Goodman], in a recognizable, believable situation, the difficulty in assigning blame and analyzing motive as well as in tracing the pressures adults exert on children, who are also subject to the pressures of their own codes, is very well done. Unlike the general run of juvenile novels, the issue of anti-Semitism is not continuously slugged at, telegraphed or spotlighted. It is through nuance that the social myths go crashing—about being Jewish, looking Jewish and having Jewish names. Berries' first person reporting is sharp. This boy doesn't miss a trick and all the incidental misadventures of transplanting from city sidewalks to suburban folkways are recounted with a direct comic vision which enhances the book's major point without reducing its serious...
(The entire section is 285 words.)
"Berries Goodman" is a children's book which focuses unsmilingly on the Gentile and the Jewish problem. Despite a most readable style, it is a hard, painful book. Berries, whom we meet at age 9, is Gentile. The product of a heterogeneous big-city neighborhood and a laissez-faire family, he has always accepted people for themselves. After his family moves to the suburbs, however, Berries gradually wakes up to the fact of prejudice. It puzzles him and disturbs him. Eventually its ugly complexities cause him to lose his best friend, a Jewish boy named Sidney Fine….
This is a profound subject for a book of children's fiction. Mrs. Neville keeps to the point. She has not tried to explain away the weed of prejudice but only to show its bitter fruit. And that is quite enough. (p. 26)
Ellen Rudin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1965 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 25, 1965.
(The entire section is 153 words.)
Ruth Hill Viguers
Told with understated directness, [Berries Goodman] has underlying emotion that makes the reader care greatly about the boys and their friendship. The characters are completely individual, Berries' family is refreshing and real, and events grow naturally from the interplay of personalities. The whole story has the conviction of one that has been a long time maturing in the author's mind. Stronger than the author's It's Like This, Cat, and highly recommended. (p. 285)
Ruth Hill Viguers, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1965 by the Horn Book, Inc., Boston), June, 1965.
(The entire section is 88 words.)
[Berries Goodman is a] completely contemporary tale, as immediate and recognizable as the PTA and advice-to-parents columns. Its central theme—anti-Semitic prejudice in "restricted" communities and how it affects children brought up in ignorance that such things exist—is both important and interesting. Its incidents … are the stuff of everyday middle-class life. Its hero, Berries, is as appealing a 9-year-old as you could find. And yet, after the award-winning It's Like This, Cat, Mrs. Neville's previous book, this is a disappointment. Probably the trouble is that the material is all too familiar, and there is not enough drama in the story or development in the characters. (p. 16)
Taliaferro Boatwright, in Book Week—The Washington Post (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), July 11, 1965.
(The entire section is 123 words.)
Ruth Hill Viguers
Attitudes and idiom reflect what is considered typical of New York City children [in The Seventeenth-Street Gang]. Underneath their defiant independence and their defence against "flots" and adults in general are glimpses of the people they really are—not very different from children of any time and place. The glimpses are brief, however. Instead of the depth of the characterization in the author's Berries Goodman, one feels here superficial cleverness, typical of a current genre. Present-day children, recognizing types, may read enough into the story to enjoy it, but the plot is too slim to be remembered long. (p. 570)
Ruth Hill Viguers, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1966, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), October, 1966.
(The entire section is 115 words.)
Thomas J. Fleming
Like all award winners, Emily Cheney Neville will spend the rest of her life competing with herself. Her "It's Like This, Cat" walked (or talked) off with the Newbery Medal several years ago. Is "The Seventeenth-Street Gang" a match for that champion? The answer must be a reluctant no.
Mrs. Neville's eye for the nuances of affection and exasperation between parents and children is still keen, and she creates believable characters, who talk and act like real children and adults. Everyone's favorite in this book is sure to be Minnow, Seventeenth Street's supercharged femme fatale…. But Minnow's charm is wasted on a very routine plot—the gang's hesitation about taking a new boy named Hollis into the group—and Mrs. Neville must resort to even more routine melodrama to resolve it. (pp. 42, 44)
Thomas J. Fleming, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1966 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 6, 1966.
(The entire section is 152 words.)
Capricious, mendacious, and notably hostile, Minnow dominates a group of boys and girls of mixed ages and backgrounds living in a heterogeneous New York neighborhood [in The Seventeenth-Street Gang]…. The resilient Minnow is an enfant terrible, but she is more nasty than vicious, and she is utterly believable. The shifting patterns of power plays within the gang are fascinating, as are the stratagems that the children use to maintain their privacy against adults. (p. 50)
Zena Sutherland, in Saturday Review (© 1966 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission). November 12, 1966.
(The entire section is 87 words.)
Of [Natalie Savage Carlson's The Empty Schoolhouse, Bella Rodman's Lions in the Way, and Berries Goodman], each pleading for tolerance, Berries Goodman seems to me the best balanced. The well-to-do suburb of Olcott does not care for Jews and forces them, by subtle pressure, to live a separate social life…. [Racial] antagonism is the cause of action, not the motive for the book. When Berries and Sidney are separated we see family relationships laid bare—the stupid power exercised by Sandra's parents, the appalling powerlessness of children to direct their lives or understand their parents' direction of them. All this emerges as Berries tells the story five years later, a little wiser but still leaving the reader to discover depths in the story for himself. Clever, witty, generous—the book is also, unobtrusively, very wise. (p. 836)
Margery Fisher, in her Growing Point, January, 1967.
(The entire section is 143 words.)
The world Emily Cheney knew as a little girl in the 1920s will seem to today's children as foreign to their experience as a fairytale kingdom, as remote as a planet in outer space. But to Emily, the Place was very real—and secure—inhabited exclusively by Cheneys….
[Traveler from a Small Kingdom] is Emily's nostalgic recreation of that life. It moves at a leisurely pace as it tells of games and pranks with cousins, of holiday celebrations, of exploratory walks with [the governess] Mrs. Goodall, of experiments with their hens and pet goats. Gradually it takes Emily beyond her kingdom….
Children love to know what it was like "when you were a little girl." With the storytelling skill and intuition that won her the Newbery award for It's Like This, Cat, Emily Neville makes her childhood and its setting both real and appealing. (p. 4)
Polly Goodwin, in Book World—Chicago Tribune, Part II (© 1968 Postrib Corp.), May 5, 1968.
(The entire section is 157 words.)
Ethel L. Heins
To a generation of children growing up … in a world accustomed to war, violence, speed, and technology, [the almost uneventful re-creation of an extinct way of life in Traveler from a Small Kingdom] may seem limp and unreal. Perhaps an adult, savoring the reminiscences and the evocative writing, can introduce the book. (p. 335)
Ethel L. Heins, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1968 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), June, 1968.
(The entire section is 69 words.)
[Fogarty] has the candor and realism of the author's Newbery winner, It's Like This, Cat …, with a protagonist who is like so many of today's young adults, but no formula situations. The characterizations, not only of Fog but of all the minor characters, is magnificent. (p. 72)
Zena Sutherland, in Saturday Review (© 1969 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), November 8, 1969.
When first met [in Fogarty] loafing in front of Malone's garage in Wilbur Flats, Dan Fogarty, twenty-three, college graduate and law school drop-out, is the "town flop"—as he caustically informs a preacher who, like his old schoolteacher, the retired idlers and almost everyone, would have him be something…. The scenes in and around the garage smack of early Saroyan—the same people stopping by to get gas and bandy Big Ideas, Fog and the preacher peppering each other with Biblical quotations; then we're in the East Village, where Fog sleeps with a self-protective waif, senses the futile drift, sees his play flop. (Oddly, this man who chose to confound Wilbur Flats seems wholly a child in New York.)… There's a little obscenity, plus the bedding of Yetta, but this isn't a children's book anyhow, just an adult bind without adult dimension. (p. 1203)
Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1969 The Kirkus Service,...
(The entire section is 210 words.)
Ruth Hill Viguers
Emily Neville's It's Like This, Cat … gives a wonderful sense of the sights, sounds, and smells of New York City. Dave Mitchell, fourteen and rebellious—"My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy. This is one reason I got a cat"—tells his own story of a year of growing up, especially of going through the tunnel of impatience and irritation with his father and coming at last into the light. Mrs. Neville's second book, Berries Goodman …, has even more interesting characters and situations. It is the story of a city boy, newly arrived in the suburbs, who has his first brush with antisemitism. Berries Goodman and Sidney Fine, who have found much in common, do their best to keep adult prejudices from interfering with their friendship, but they cannot long maintain their easy, happy relationship in the face of parental pressures. Humor and perspective make it an absorbing story, not a social tract. The emotion underlying the straightforward storytelling makes the reader care greatly about the boys and their friendship. (pp. 595-96)
Ruth Hill Viguers, in A Critical History of Children's Literature, by Cornelia Meigs, Anne Thaxter Eaton, Elizabeth Nesbitt, and Ruth Hill Viguers, edited by Cornelia Meigs (copyright © 1953, 1969 by Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.), revised edition, Macmillan, 1969.
(The entire section is 216 words.)
Once a domesticated preserve of games and whimsey and fancy, the new children's literature now deals with all the subjects that were once labeled "For Adults Only."
Emily Cheney Neville is certainly one of the better practitioners of the new children's literature. Her "It's Like This, Cat" won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1964. In "Fogarty" she has an honest ear, a penchant for sharp simile ("He'd forgotten that city water tasted like warm Clorox"), the ability to encapsulate an endearing truth simply ("'Why,' he thought, 'is it so hard to tell someone you don't love them?'") and, moreover she knows how to underwrite a dramatic scene so that it reverberates with overtones ("He said, 'Don't cry.' Then, a little later, 'Why are you crying?' She broke away from him and said, 'If I knew why, I wouldn't be doing it!'"). Then why does her treatment of Fogarty, a young man caught in the drift of our times, finally seem so disappointingly tame and tepid?…
Indeed, there is something second grade and second hand about it all, like most simplistic television drama, tinted with condescension, coming up with stale, pat poses instead of trying to provide some exciting insight into the dynamics of neuroses. Compare Fogarty, with say, Benjamin, of "The Graduate" and one can easily begin to see the difference between old adult literature and so much of the new children's literature. Sex can overwhelm Benjamin, but Fogarty...
(The entire section is 382 words.)
Diane G. Stavn
[Fogarty], ambitious in aim, is off-target in itself but better than most…. Like A. E. Johnson's A Blues I Can Whistle …, this book depicts the sentimental hold of a small town on even its more rebellious citizens, and features a sensitive young dropout hero who is getting over an unhappy romance, has some measure of artistic talent, and spars mentally with himself about his motivations to action. But A Blues I Can Whistle is more sophisticated stylistically, more intrinsically dramatic. Its protagonist, 19-year-old Cody, is recovering from an actual affair; Fog, from a hand-holding relationship. Cody's attempt to prevent his activist friend Barney's philosophically-inspired suicide makes political/social issues immediate and vivid; Fog's emotional shouting (pro ghetto children who have difficulty in school, anti hellfire interpretations of religion) is tedious. The book is obviously intended as a sympathetic record of the gradual maturation of a well-meaning slow bloomer. But, beside Cody, for example, young Fogarty palls. (p. 71)
Diane G. Stavn, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1970 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1970), January, 1970.
[It's Like This, Cat] is very American in content and atmosphere. The hero, Dave, acts, talks and thinks in...
(The entire section is 377 words.)
MAY HILL ARBUTHNOT and ZENA SUTHERLAND
There is no startling drama in It's Like This, Cat …, but it is impressive both for its lightly humorous, easy style and the fidelity with which it portrays a fourteen-year-old boy, Dave, who tells the story. Dave has found the first girl with whom he really feels comfortable (her mother is delightfully sketched as an urban intellectual), and he learns, by seeing the relationship between his father and his friend, that his father really is a pretty good guy. The experience of seeing one's parents through a friend's eyes is a common one, usually revelatory and seldom touched on in books for young people.
Berries Goodman … looks back on the two years in which his family lived in a suburb, years in which he had a friend who was Jewish and learned the subtle signs of adult prejudice: the nuances of tone and the light dismissal of subjects with painful implications. He also learns that Sidney's mother is just as biased. The book is an invitation to better understanding, and its serious import is not lessened by a light humor. (p. 464)
May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland, in their Children and Books (copyright © 1947, 1957, 1964, 1972 by Scott, Foresman and Company; reprinted by permission), fourth edition, Scott. Foresman, 1972.
(The entire section is 205 words.)
Chekhov pointed out that the great writer has a sense of absolute freedom within the discipline of his craft, within his moral point of view, his sense of aesthetic distance. He has reached that point where he can be himself to the utmost degree and can say it without descending to the meretricious, the vulgar, or to a cheap voyeurism. And I think that it is this sense of restriction—of not feeling perfectly free to express all he knows to be true of teenage sexual feelings and the teenagers' deepest attitudes toward them—that so often pulls the quality of the writer's work for this age down to the level of the bland and the superficial, to what Josh Greenfeld, in a review of Emily Neville's Fogarty [see excerpt above] called "the cultivated cop-out." That cop-out, he said, is what is the matter with most children's books. But what he meant by "the cultivated cop-out" in reference to Emily Neville's novel was her failure to communicate any real understanding of Fogarty as a man desiring a woman. She closed the door on that scene, and on Fogarty's emotions in that moment because she possibly hadn't the knowledge or the power or the courage to face them and delineate them in a way she could handle. And I was sharply resentful at finding a novel about a twenty-three-year-old man reviewed with children's books (and called by Greenfeld a children's book) simply because Emily Neville usually writes for teenagers. But resentful above all because...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
Eric A. Kimmel
The central issue of Berries Goodman is that of polite suburban anti-Semitism…. (p. 152)
Ms. Neville cannot really be criticized for not presenting a very clear picture of the central issues of Jewish life, for the main action does not involve Jewish characters in any roles other than secondary ones. Still, some points should be noted. Sidney Fine falls victim to a malady common to minority characters in similar situations. Because of the structure of the plot, it is important that he be seen as a sympathetic, regular guy, so nice that any dislike of him is revealed as foolish and unjustified. What really happens in this case and in similar ones is that the character becomes flat. Although Ms. Neville is especially gifted in capturing the speech and thought of children and adolescents, Sidney seems to have nothing to say about what it means to be Jewish in a hostile Gentile environment. A conversation between Berries and Sidney on this subject would have been memorable. However, it never occurs.
Sidney's mother is more interesting, bent on over-protecting her son from what she sees as an overtly hostile environment. But again, we never get a rational statement about her motives. We merely see her reacting, or overreacting.
A far more serious criticism involves the handling of the issue of anti-Semitism, the book's main theme. We are shown the effects of anti-Semitism, but we never get down...
(The entire section is 376 words.)
Carolyn T. Kingston
The tragic moments of [It's Like This, Cat] ostensibly concern cats, but in a larger sense they are clarifications of two forms of loss.
The first tragic moment occurs after Cat has been seriously hurt in a fight. Cat often returns home wounded from his night rambles, but this time he comes close to death. Kate says that the animal can survive only one or two years in the back alleys, and Dave, loving his pet, realizes that he must decide whether to take Cat to the hospital for an operation. The boy places high value on his pet's masculinity and "catness" and cannot bear that this should be lost, but with tears in his eyes, he decides that the preservation of Cat's life must take precedence. At this moment, Dave becomes a tragic hero. Forced to choose between "two goods," he solves the difficult problem alone, taking the way that seems best, although it involves the loss of something he values. He has found the tragic balance, knowing that it is important to him to keep Cat from further suffering. "I'm sorry," he tells his pet, before they leave for the hospital. "Be tough, Cat, anyway, will you?" (p. 153)
The second tragic moment again involves a cat—this time, one of Kate's kittens. After the spinster inherits her fortune, her quiet apartment is suddenly crowded with reporters and curious persons. A litter of new kittens has recently been born, among them a strong young cat who is of an adventurous spirit...
(The entire section is 876 words.)
Mrs. Neville makes the slum setting [of "Garden of Broken Glass"] palpably real. Her four main characters have plenty of problems: living on the edge of despair with an abusive drunk for a mother, as Brian, the one white boy, does; being fat, and, as 13-year-old Martha fears, pregnant; knowing, as Dwayne and his girlfriend Melvita do, that "without money, you is nothin!" But problems, as Mrs. Neville knows, are only interesting if the characters move and breathe and think and feel.
Martha is philosophical beyond her years, and perhaps, beyond belief. The street talk doesn't always ring true. Now and then the author, whose great strength is seeing people from inside, makes extraneous, sociological-sounding comments. Despite such faults, this is an honest, quite powerful book. I hope lots of kids read it. I can even imagine it making a difference in a few of their lives.
Doris Orgel, "Garden of Broken Glass," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 15, 1975, p. 8.
[Garden of Broken Glass] is a story of wonderful young people, struggling against heavy odds to avoid being mortally scarred by the sharp edges of a racist and uncaring society. (p. 241)
The oppression of poverty and racism is depicted without evoking sentimental pity for the young characters, who have...
(The entire section is 308 words.)