Gunnel Beckman 1910–
Swedish novelist and editor.
Beckman explores social themes as they relate to young adults. Her compassionate and realistic depictions of maturing characters suddenly faced with monumental concerns have earned the respect of both critics and readers.
Among the problems Beckman's young protagonists must deal with are death, the loneliness of living on one's own, and the various consequences, both emotional and physical, that arise from being sexually active. One of Beckman's most outstanding protagonists, Mia, of Mia Alone and That Early Spring, must make complex decisions as she faces pregnancy and an agonizing loneliness. That Early Spring has been commended for the sensitive, mutually beneficial relationship that develops between Mia and her aged grandmother.
Although some of the conflicts presented in Beckman's novels have been called melodramatic, the responses of her characters are considered refreshingly unique and believable. The credibility of her characters and their situations is not accidental; Beckman has based many of them on her experiences as a probation officer in her hometown of Solna.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed. and Something about the Author, Vol. 6.)
[Admission to the Feast presents stream] of consciousness meditations on her 19 year life and imminent death typed out in anguish by Annika Hallin after learning—accidentally—that she has leukemia. What begins as random expressions of disbelieving grief, opinions on the state of the world …, and remembered lines of poetry, soon coalesces into a memoir of her recently deceased alcoholic father. Rejecting the available bottle of sleeping pills, Annika soon begins to long in spite of herself for comfort from her boyfriend Jacob—whose intellectual dominance she'd only begun to resist. The final suggestion that Jacob may need her help (did he try to cross the thin ice of the lake on his way to her isolated cabin?) is somehow a less than satisfactory way of demonstrating her commitment to the days of life still ahead…. Annika is not profound enough to come to a real accommodation with death, but her gropings toward understanding and acceptance have a universal validity. Her reactions could be anyone's given the circumstances—there lie the story's limitations, and also its undeniable fascination.
A review of "Admission to the Feast," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1972 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XL, No. 18, September 15, 1972, p. 1106.
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[In Admission to the Feast Annika Gerd Maria Hallin] confronts her own death from leukemia…. After learning about her plight, Annika flees to her family's summer cottage to face solitarily becoming "nothing, nothing in the infinity of in-finity." In a letter to a friend, written like a stream-of-consciousness narrative, Annika pours out her heightened sensations about the beauty of the world around her, her struggle to find an identity of her own making, the events of her reconciliation a few months earlier with the father she had not seen for years, and—as the days go on—her awareness of her growing ability to confront death with dignity. By the end of the story, she anticipates seeing her fiancé Jacob and will face with him what she has worked out alone…. Grim and stark and powerful, the book explores emotions rarely touched upon in children's literature—and does so honestly and frankly. A haunting story which blends Annika's desperate situation with a fragmented, urgent writing style.
Anita Silvey, in her review of "Admission to the Feast," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1972 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLVIII, No. 5, October, 1972, p. 474.
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Margaret A. Dorsey
Through a letter written to a friend, 19-year-old Annika Hallin tells most effectively of her discovery of and reaction to having leukemia [in Admission to the Feast]…. In the letter, written over a 48-hour period, she recounts the events of the recent past—her love affair with Jacob, her unexpected reconciliation with her long-absent father and his subsequent death, her relationship with her mother, her summer job as an aide in an old people's home, observations of the early spring countryside—and reminiscences about childhood memories. The ending is stunning in its ambiguity: the possibility that Jacob may have been killed accidentally in his hurry to reach the cottage; that Annika might commit suicide; that everything might turn out happily. The avoidance of a neat wrap up is the capstone to a well-controlled story with fresh, balanced characterizations. Teenage girls will find it easy to identify with Annika's conflicting feelings about Jacob and her own identity and appreciate the well-handled treatment of an admittedly melodramatic situation. The author has resisted the many obvious opportunities to preach on subjects ranging from individual happiness to social justice, allowing the fully-developed character of Annika to speak for herself. (pp. 63-4)
Margaret A. Dorsey, in her review of "Admission to the Feast," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted...
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She cannot write to the people who love her most, her fiance and her mother, because what Annika [in Admission to the Feast] has to say would shock them too much. She writes to an old friend, and her story is grim and pathetic, yet not morbid. Due to a young doctor's careless remark. Annika has just discovered that she has incurable cancer…. In her long letter, she describes a meeting with her father, whom she had met the year before after not seeing him (divorce) since she was a very small child, she tells her friend Helen about her love affair, she describes the agony she feels and her adjustment to the fact that she is going to die. Translated from the Swedish title Tilltrāde Till Festen, the story may be found depressing by some readers, but it is strong and candid, remarkably varied and well-paced for a monologue, and certainly unusual in its theme.
Zena Sutherland, in her review of "Admission to the Feast," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1973 by The University of Chicago), Vol. 26, No. 8, April, 1973, p. 118.
(The entire section is 193 words.)
Sister Mary Columba Offerman
[A Room of His Own] is a candid account of the confusions, problems, apprehensions, and anguish of today's young people. The author does not give answers regarding politics, sex, war, or pornography.
Anders, the main character, goes to the city to school. He is homesick, finds it hard to make friends, cannot adjust to situations and people. His apprehensions sap the energy needed to enjoy school life. He is tempted to return to his small, home town to work in his father's grocery store and disregard his many dreams for the future. Monica Tornquist, a teenage girl who lives upstairs in the same building, is a concern of Anders. She is always in trouble of one kind or other—with the police, her mother, motorcycle gangs, etc. His every effort to befriend her meets with defeat. Anders finally concludes that, like himself, Monica has to make her own decision about what she is to do with her life.
Sister Mary Columba Offerman, in her review of "A Room of His Own," in Best Sellers (copyright 1974, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 34, No. 6, June 15, 1974, p. 148.
(The entire section is 184 words.)
Very little is coherent about ["A Room of His Own," the] story of a boy on his own for the first time in a big city. His feelings about himself are muddled, his feelings about the family he left behind are muddled, his relationship to the girl who lives in his building is muddled. There is no plot to speak of, no story to tell, no discovery, no resolution. The outpouring of adolescent ruminations is depressingly unrevealing.
Anders, a young Swedish boy who has left his home town to go to school in Stockholm, has taken his own room in a boarding house. His major problems are homesickness, loneliness and guilt at leaving his family to their problems. In the same boarding house lives a young girl, Monica, who can't stay out of trouble—fast friends, drugs, difficulties with her mother. Anders becomes briefly involved with her troubles. That's the story.
Possibly part of the problem with the book is the translation from Swedish [by Joan Tate]. But I don't think so. As the prose is insufficient, so is the plot, the characterization, the conception. It's just a muddled, dull story about another teenager struggling through his adolescence, with little insight, insignificant relationships and little meaning.
Dale Carson, in a review of "A Room of His Own," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 23, 1974, p....
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Several plot strands are inexpertly threaded through [A Room of His Own]…. Anders' parents' health and economic problems, the conflict between a rebellious girl and her mother who live upstairs, and Anders' growing need for identity and sexual maturity are superficially treated. Needless profanity and stylistic awkwardness further detract from the novel. Though there are a couple of interesting characters and entertaining incidents (e.g., flashbacks of Anders' relationships with his grandfather and an elderly neighbor in Stockholm) they do not compensate for the book's weaknesses.
Peggy Sullivan, in her review of "A Room of His Own," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the September, 1974 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1974), Vol. 21, No. 1, September, 1974, p. 97.
(The entire section is 129 words.)
The Times Literary Supplement
Gunnel Beckman's new book [Mia, published in the United States as Mia Alone,] is outstanding less for its nuances and artistry, though these are present, than for its willingness to look fearlessly and with compassion at the terrible moral problems with which liberal thinking on sexual freedom can confront the young. Like Mrs Beckman's earlier books (Admission to the Feast and A Room of his Own) Mia is very far from being a documentary novel of the dry conventional kind; everything she writes is informed not only with fact but with abundant feeling. Here her heart is with Mia, a sixteen-year-old who has slept with her boyfriend and who discovers to her horror that her period is long overdue. Lesser writers than Mrs Beckman might have allowed Mia's self-absorption with her physical state and its practical as well as emotional problems to obscure the picture of the family of which Mia herself is a treasured part. But this is a portrait of a Swedish family, itself on the brink of collapse—so that, in sorting out her own problems (one of which is concerned simply with getting enough money to have a pregnancy test), Mia must also cope with the distress of her mother and father over their failing marriage and decide whether she can add her anxiety to theirs. Mia's anguish over the moral dilemma of abortion, and her agonizing over the decision whether to go through with pregnancy and an over-early marriage, pregnancy and single...
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Pamela D. Pollack
Suspense is meant to mount [in Mia Alone] as Mia Järeberg marks time awaiting results of her pregnancy test, but there's no need for nail biting since the scare is just that. Mia gets "the curse" (a surprising Victorianism for a modern-day story set in sexually free Sweden) and Beckman gets an easy way out of the not-so-simple issues raised: Mother had to get married before abortion on demand and where would Mia be if …; boyfriend Jan opposes the operation …; Mia's option to choose abortion means accepting responsibility for her own body; etc. Lacking any concrete action, the story becomes a bloodless marathon talk fest. Still, Beckman keeps a lid on moralizing and melodrama, and the absence of some of the genre's creakier conventions—one-shot pregnancies (here it's five times); Neanderthal parents (though in the throes of divorce, Mr. Järeberg is a model supportive father); bad-guy boyfriends (well-meaning Jan offers marriage)—makes this a mild improvement over run-of-the-abortion-mill tracts….
Pamela D. Pollack, in her review of "Mia Alone," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1975 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1975), Vol. 21, No. 5, January, 1975, p. 52.
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[In "Mia Alone," Mia] is sure she's pregnant but unsure about the morality of abortion. Her lover, Jan, is dead against abortion and wants them to marry. But Mia, who knows to her sorrow that her parents married only because her birth was imminent, feels that such a union would be wrong. The book is candid; the girl arouses sympathy. Young readers will be keen to know how she resolves her difficulties, but annoyed by the author, who fudges the issue and the ending.
A review of "Mia Alone" in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the March 10, 1975 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1975 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 207, No. 10, March 10, 1975, p. 57.
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The Loneliness of Mia [published in the United States as That Early Spring] does at least broaden the terms of reference which, in the earlier Mia, seemed painfully narrow. Mia's concern is not now exclusively with her own body and she shows herself capable of responding with some emotional strength to the troubles that now beset her—her parents' separation and the loss of her boy friend Jan. As an outlet for her feelings she turns to Martin, a music student who has no intention of treating her as anything but a pastime and a pleasant companion. Far more rewarding, in fact, is the confidence the girl places in her grandmother, who is able to help her to some sense of proportion, especially in regard to the Women's Liberation movement which Mia and her school friends endlessly discuss. Here the stylistic rigidness of the book is most in evidence. Conversations, especially in a group of young people, are neither naturally consistent nor orderly…. In The Loneliness of Mia we hear the sound of a debating society, not of an informal group talking naturally about what truly concerns them. The result is not—could never be—good fiction. (p. 2644)
Margery Fisher, "Family Ties," in her Growing Point, Vol. 14, No. 1, May, 1975, pp. 2642-45.∗
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[Gunnel Beckman] appears to have laboured under the popular misconception that anyone with enough common sense can write fiction. The success of her Mia … was due far more to its careful analysis of adolescent sexual dilemma than to nice points of art. Two years later [in The Loneliness of Mia] the heroine has ditched Jan in favour of Martin, a smoothie with a neat line in unbuttoning blouses, and has become an enthusiastic member of a women's group. Superior kitsch though much of the writing is, we are never left in doubt as to the piety of the author's aims and the breadth of her understanding.
Jonathan Keates, "Occult," in New Statesman (© 1975 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 89, No. 2304, May 16, 1975, p. 668.∗
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[In The Loneliness of Mia] Mia has broken with her boyfriend, who has not been at all changed by all they have gone through. She has the idea of bringing her father's mother from an old people's home to live with them. The brave old woman is prepared to risk shortening her own life in order to be useful, and feel wanted by her son and grand-daughter. She gives Mia the benefit of her wise experience, not only on relationships, but on Women's Lib. Swedish feminist problems have been different from ours, but the principles remain the same. It is not a dramatic subject, and the weakest part of the book is the non-debate in Mia's flat with Grandma, a mere excuse for crusading quotations, in preparation for a class discussion on the emancipation of women. Though we become closely involved with the family, and teenage loneliness and death are most sensitively and understandingly presented, not all parents, teachers or librarians will feel happy about putting before older girls such matter-of-fact acceptance by the adults, from Grandma and the author onwards, of pre-marital sex, providing one is on the pill. (pp. 208-09)
Mary Hobbs, in her review of "The Loneliness of Mia," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 39, No. 3, June, 1975, pp. 208-09.
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Topics come and go as surely as the seasons—remember a few years ago when every other juvenile fiction was student rebellion, or black-white problems, then drugs, then divorce and runaways—now abortion/pre-marital sex is in….
Mia Alone is on the abortion bandwagon. It gives no solutions, no sound advice, no pattern to follow. But it offers what many others have not—the barren feeling of loneliness that is the common denominator for all deeds falling outside social structure; the leader and the renegade alike share this, the young and the old, the male and the female.
While trying to decide on abortion as an answer to possible pregnancy, Mia learns that ultimately we are all alone—and much strength is needed to face this fact and carry on. There should be no hesitation in placing this book in either religious or public school, since no stand is taken. The hell of decision is the same everywhere.
Hildagarde Gray, in her review of "Mia Alone," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1975 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 35, No. 4, July, 1975, p. 95.
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The solitude of Mia Alone … ends fortuitously [in That Early Spring] when Gram comes from the old age home to share the lonely apartment Mia and her Dad have inhabited since Mother and sister Lillian moved to the country. Gram's reminiscences of a time when her husband was also her legal guardian and her confession that "the last time I slept with your grandfather, he was 72" are the foundation of an affectionate solidarity, unlike any Mia has shared with her reserved, preoccupied parents. Yet Gram's confidences also make Mia uncomfortably aware of the gulf between the earnest discussions of sex roles in her school study group and her passive, romantic crush on Martin, an "older" man of 21 who introduces her to liberated sex. Mia eventually summons the courage to announce to Martin that "freedom isn't just for men … I don't want to be a sex machine."… Mia's equation of personal and societal ills and the schoolgirl seriousness with which she attacks both simultaneously may be peculiarly Scandinavian, yet the characters of Gram (a major presence here and never merely a colorful oldster) and of Martin, the likably ingenuous sexist, have dimensions that go beyond the issues they represent.
A review of "That Early Spring," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1977 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLV, No. 3, February 1, 1977, p. 97.
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Alleen Pace Nilsen
Today there is a lot of talk about the negative or non-existent portrayal of old people in books for young readers. That Early Spring can serve as a counterbalance. The main focus of this sequel to Mia Alone is the productive and satisfying relationship that develops between Mia and her grandmother during the last months of her grandmother's life….
[In some ways That Early Spring] is less promising than either Mia Alone or the earlier Admission to the Feast. In one part there is a discussion group meeting at Mia's apartment in which the grandmother participates. The discussion of feminist views which ensues seems didactic rather than a natural outgrowth of the story. Nevertheless, the characterization of Mia is excellent and the reader shares her fears, uncertainties, and annoyance at herself because she can't quite match her feminist views with her romantic feelings.
Allen Pace Nilsen, in her review of "That Early Spring" (copyright © 1977 by the National Council of Teachers of English; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), in English Journal, Vol. 66, No. 6, September, 1977, p. 86.
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Mia and The Loneliness of Mia are less outstanding as works of literature [than some young adult novels], I would say, but then they are on a smaller scale. For young people of about thirteen and over, they deal in an outspoken way with sexual questions teenagers have to come to terms with. However, this is all within a context of relationships. Mia, her parents and her grandmother—and even another generation has to be taken into account while Mia is possibly pregnant—all these are linked by questions of love and responsibility, one generation to another. In the first book, especially, powerful emotions are handled with understanding and realism…. It seems to me that Beckman tries to deal with too many very serious problems at once and therefore the overall structure of her work suffers. Her clear-sightedness and honesty, however, compel attention. Here is a writer dealing with the world of today. (p. 39)
Bob Dixon, "Sexism: Birds in Gilded Cages," in his Catching Them Young 1: Sex, Race and Class in Children's Fiction (copyright © Pluto Press 1977), Pluto Press, 1977, pp. 1-41.∗
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