Homesick Essay - Critical Context

Jean Fritz

Critical Context

Homesick was a milestone, both in terms of autobiography for young readers and of Fritz’s career as a writer. The winner of the 1983 American Book Award and a 1983 Newbery Medal Honor Book, Fritz’s autobiography showed that writing for a juvenile audience could be at least as self-revealing and rigorous an enterprise as writing an autobiography directed toward adults. Authors and critics alike found in young Jean Guttery an engaging and believable portrait of the author as a child, and they were especially struck by the depiction of her inner life. Major textbooks on children’s literature regularly recommend Homesick as part of a social studies or biography unit but seem obliged to note that the book is fictionalized autobiography.

China Homecoming (1985), Homesick’s sequel, continues the discussion of authorial intent and method begun in the first book’s preface and reveals that Homesick was prompted by the death of Fritz’s father, her last link with the China of her childhood. Fritz writes that she rushed to capture that childhood on paper before any more of it “slipped away.” China Homecoming grew out of Homesick’s recovery of memory; Fritz decided to return to China for the first time since her departure as a child and recorded that experience in Homesick’s sequel. A subsequent work of non-fiction, China’s Long March: Six Thousand Miles of Danger (1988) can be seen as another book in Fritz’s exploration of China’s revolutionary past. Yet neither of the two later books, both of which are completely nonfictional, have attained the popularity of Homesick. Fritz’s fictionalized autobiography rings true to the emotions and impulses of childhood.