Forman, James D(ouglas)
James D(ouglas) Forman 1932–
American young adult novelist and nonfiction writer.
Forman is often concerned with social issues in his young adult fiction; racism, ecology, and war are among the subjects he has explored. Forman is considered one of the major war novelists writing today for his uncompromising presentation of the realities of war. Using present and past conflicts in Germany, Greece, Ireland, and the Middle East, he impresses upon his readers the futility of war. Forman's most successful works realistically examine the reactions of people caught up in the death and destruction of war, focusing especially on young adults who are forced into maturity by events beyond their control. Although his young heroes and heroines feel horror, disgust, and fear, they act with unfaltering strength and honor. Loyalty, courage, and the value of friendship and human life are important elements in Forman's studies of the stresses of war.
Forman's highly-acclaimed novel Ceremony of Innocence deals with the conflict between state and individual—whether or not to fight for one's convictions in opposition to government. Based on actual events, Ceremony of Innocence is the story of a brother and sister who are executed for distributing subversive pamphlets in World War II Germany. Praised as juvenile fiction at its best, the novel sensitively and honestly portrays the protagonists's dilemma. The question of human rights is considered in a different light in Song of Jubilee. Although this novel is similar in many respects to William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, the differences are striking. Whereas Styron's hero is illiterate and rebellious, Forman's black protagonist is literate but seems afraid of freedom and decides to remain with his master. While some critics are disturbed by Forman's characterizations, others feel he successfully portrays the demoralizing effects of slavery on both blacks and whites.
Forman is also a practicing attorney and has written several books outlining the history and development of various political systems, including Nazism, anarchism, and communism. Forman concentrates on the relationship between government and the people, relating his material in easily understandable prose. These books are generally well received as excellent introductions for adolescent readers. Nonetheless, Forman's reputation as a writer rests on his young adult fiction and the values he stresses in these works. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
One of the most vivid and moving of recent books, ["The Skies of Crete"] has as its theme the futility of war….
Every element in the book rings true: the Cretans' picture of their long, heroic and colorful history; their passionate love of their island; the bravery, desperation and bewilderment they felt in the face of mechanized warfare and mass destruction, and the fumbling attempts of each individual to come to terms with the irrational evil that faced him.
Margaret Sherwood Libby, "'The Skies of Crete'," in Book Week—New York Herald Tribune (© 1963, The Washington Post), November 10, 1963, p. 5.
In telling this story of Penelope Metaxas and the Nazi landing on Crete, James Forman has neither skimped nor evaded. War inevitably poses moral and ethical problems, and Penelope has to learn to face them squarely….
Mr. Forman has given a fine blend of universal and particular [in "The Skies of Crete"]: the story is of 20th-century young people encountering Nazi brutality; it might well have been about young Minoans defending Crete against the Greeks. This sense of the past is always with us…. Penelope is every vital, flowering young girl, but the ancient customs and philosophy of Crete have fashioned her into the particular modern girl that she is. This is an unusually challenging and beautiful book….
Madeleine L'Engle, "Teen-Age Fiction: 'The Skies of Crete'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1963 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 10, 1963, p. 12.
"Ring the Judas Bell" is superior fiction. It has more depth, bite and stark realism than most of what is written for young readers…. Greatly different though the books are, it has something in common with Nikos Kazantzakis's "The Fratricides." Both works are about the anguish of civil war in Greece, following World War II….
The plot is elaborately complex and suspenseful….
It is a worthwhile tale of courage, faith and patriotism with the characters well drawn and the wild Greek terrain excellently evoked.
Edmund Fuller, "Books for Young Readers: 'Ring the Judas Bell'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1965 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 4, 1965, p. 22.
Primarily, [The Shield of Achilles] tells a solid, exciting, decidedly untrivial story…. [Its] picture of island life rings true. The young heroine caught between two friends whose feelings about Cyprus and themselves have placed them in opposition faces a real choice. This is undoubtedly a message book, but the message has nothing directly to do with growing up. It deals with more basic things: good and evil, courage, loyalty, the value of friendship and of human life, the effects of war. These are lessons that are the fabric of maturity, not just the pattern it is cut from—answers that are not adult-to-teen-ager clichés, but human truths.
Sandra Schmidt, "Object Lessons for Intrepid Girls," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1966 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), May 5, 1966, p. 8B.∗
Although the plot [of The Shield of Achilles] is generally developed in a straightforward manner, with Eleni occupying the center of interest, many elements are richly woven into its texture: the constant presence of the sea and of fishermen, the sea as a symbol of beauty and freedom, and sympathetic portrayals of Turkish and British characters. For thoughtful older readers, the vivid strength of the style and the Biblical, classical, and historical allusions will evoke the rich background of the island. (p. 316)
Paul Heins, "Stories for the Older Boys and Girls: 'The Shield of Achilles'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1966 by The Horn Book, Inc.,...
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James Forman has dealt with the conflicts within a conflict, war, in earlier titles (The Skies of Crete, The Shield of Achilles, Ring the Judas Bell) and this time shifts to the German Gottedammerung, 1941–1945 [in Horses of Anger]…. Even though, as could be said of his earlier books, James Forman does not quite manage to commit his readers emotionally to the story itself, and to some extent, to its participants, he has succeeded in presenting various aspects of [Adolf Hitler's] Mein Kampf with a range of ideological issues. He is an extremely good writer, although one suspects at times that he is writing beyond his audience. (pp. 278-79)
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["Horses of Anger"] is an extraordinary book to have been written for the young reader. It is uncompromising in the difficulty of its vocabulary, the integrity and complexity of its historical facts, and the gruesomeness of its detail.
The hero of "Horses of Anger"" is a German boy, Hans Amann. Hans is inducted into that pathetic army of schoolboys whose task it was to fight a war the Third Reich had lost….
The virtue of this book lies in its avoidance of oversimplification, false drama, heroics. Nazism is shown, not as the massive entity of total horror which it was possible to see from the outside at the time, and which it is impossible even for the Germans to miss now, looking...
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Forman delivers another passionate polemic against fascism [with The Traitors]…. More competent than most war novels which concern as well the maturing of a youthful protagonist, [it] is more truly about war than anything else, as the author underscores once again the horrors he seems to understand so well. The brute force of the message has more impact than the disparate elements of the story—which show developments in Germany from the mid-1930's to 1945 and include Paul's attempts to hide a Jewish friend, his father's defiance of the Nazis, and, finally, their desperate effort with the help of a few sympathizers to aid the advancing American army. Though strong audience identification with the leading...
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There is no formal exposition or denouement for this moving story of an exodus of Jews [My Enemy, My Brother]…. After settling on a kibbutz, Dan becomes a shepherd, and forms a deep friendship with an Arab shepherd, Said, even saving his life during a flash flood. The novel abruptly comes to an end after the official independence of Israel is declared, with both Dan and Said preparing for war, in opposite camps. This jarring lack of resolution can only be a deliberate, stylistic gesture, a dramatization of the still unresolved, very live Arab/Israeli conflict. Like Forman's other more highly developed novels—[Horses of Anger and Ring the Judas Bell] …—this is powerful prose, replete with...
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James Forman has taken a large and important theme and produced an unforgettable epic novel [My Enemy, My Brother]. Sound in its historical background, uncompromising in its realism, [it] gives both sides of troubled questions….
Many young people today, like the troubled Dan, are asking questions and seeking answers. Must there always be war and hatred? Does one war exist only to breed another? With its strong characterizations, compelling narrative style and high degree of objectivity, My Enemy, My Brother offers serious young readers not only an absorbing story but much that is timely for them to ponder.
Polly Goodwin, "Ages 12 to 16, 1st...
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Taking history for his source and a lean narrative technique for his method, James Forman has written a convincing contemporary novel ["My Enemy, My Brother"] that probably will better inform many of today's 16-year-olds about a slice of the recent past than miles of miles of microfilm on spools in the school library.
As in history, the cast of principal characters is small; and, if Dan's adventures often seem melodramatic, it may be because younger readers have no way of knowing that thousands of displaced persons followed the same path as the boy, from the suddenly open gates of the concentration camp to an exhausting and perilous trek through much of Europe to the shores of British-occupied...
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Daniel Baratz [in My Enemy, My Brother] is no mewling teenager with niggling concerns, but a boy coping with questions as broad as mankind. Caught up in the immediacy and personal implications of Dan's dilemma, the reader will be certain that Daniel is over there RIGHT NOW—in the Negev or Tel Aviv or Jerusalem—still probing his conscience, still asking questions about war and killing, about Nazism and brotherhood. (p. 328)
Jane Manthorne, "Outlook Tower," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1969 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLV, No. 3, June, 1969, pp. 326-28.∗
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Considered an epic of courage and a book of high principle in today's world to inspire teenagers, Ring the Judas Bell by James Forman is a deeply serious story reflecting the fury, destruction, and pathos of modern-day unrest.
Charged with electricity and tenderness, this book is compelling for its tension, power, and solid grasp of character. Unbearable conflicts and tragic episodes are handled with the stark realism that goes to the heart of the issues behind the times….
In developing its dominant theme, "the power of the spirit to triumph even when it seems to fail most bitterly," the story traces the plans for escape that courageous Nicholos makes with the embittered...
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[In Ceremony of Innocence] Hans Scholl is in a Munich prison, caught with his sister Sophie distributing the anti-Nazi pamphlets that constituted the White Rose conspiracy: will he seize a chance to save himself, can he face death? The first is historical fact …, the second Mr. Forman's projection, as is an indeterminable portion of the memories that flood back upon Hans—in a chronological confusion that makes the propriety of putting a known person in an unknowable moral bind academic. The moral bind is however the chief thrust, and in the scrambled course of events from Hans' childhood attraction/repulsion to the Nazis through his medical service in France and Russia … to the final defiant daylight...
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Intricate and brooding, ["Ceremony of Innocence"] is a tragic profile of young martyrs: Sophia, fearless and foolhardy, a German Joan of Arc; Hans, intense and solemn, a fatalist with Socratic fortitude…. They knew their work would not change the world but, as Sophia says, "It's a way of keeping the world from changing you." Dramatizing the heroic Scholls, James Forman uses flashbacks to weave in powerful episodes, battle on the Western and Russian fronts, and cameo portraits…. But it is the Scholls who dominate the tapestry: Sophia and Hans, naive and childlike, but poignant and transcendent in their futile search for justice in an evil environment.
Robert Hood, "For Young...
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Resistance to militarism has become a relatively popular theme in books for adolescent readers. However, books about current social trends tend to be expeditiously written and often fail to achieve literary merit. In the midst of this current trend, James Forman's [Ceremony of Innocence] stands out because it presents an actual conflict between real people who denounced or supported Nazi activities in Germany during World War II in excellent prose which succeeds in portraying human elements of conflict despite the overriding presence of a national social conflict in which the characters lived….
Ceremony of Innocence is a moving testimonial to the search for truth despite consequences....
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[In "Song of Jubilee" Forman] seems to be saying that a literate slave can remain loyal to his masters, no matter the provocation. Jim Chase is the personification of Malcolm X's "house nigger" as described in his "Message to the Grass Roots" speech. He talks a good game; but the fact is that Jim Chase is plain scared of freedom and, even while the Civil War rages around his head, he remains faithful. His constant apologies and rationalizations for remaining loyal throughout the war are sickening.
"Song of Jubilee" can only add fuel to the argument that white men cannot, indeed should not, write about black people. James Forman, a usually compelling writer, has used turgid prose to present young...
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As a picture of the "awful insanity of it all," [Song of Jubilee] is a success and follows the standards set up by the author's previous works which deal with wartime situations. There is a wide range of characters; the background is richly detailed; and the story is smoothly and excitingly told. However, clichés seem to creep in whenever personalities versus events are being developed. For instance, Myles never goes beyond the author's original characterization of him that he "believed in God, white motherhood, and the Virginian way of life …"; Jim's father is pigeonholed glibly as having "a soft humble manner, mild, hesitant little smile; it comes from spending your life as a cuspidor"; while the very...
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As [Jonathan] Swift defined it "the law is a bottomless pit," and James Forman has taken upon himself the monumental task of exploring it [in Law and Disorder]. His discussion embraces the worldwide development of legal systems from their beginnings in a primitive state of Hobbesian disorder to present trends in the areas of negligence, civil liberties and international law with additional chapters on the nature of punishment and suggestions for court reform. The marshalling of so many complex topics into a readable, if not always orderly, narrative is something of an achievement, and the text is liberally sprinkled with case studies and historical comparisons which bespeak wide-ranging research. Most...
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[People of the Dream is the story of the] tragic retreat and surrender of the Nez Perce as seen through the eyes of Chief Joseph who emerges less as a hero than as a curiously alienated observer…. [He] is a pessimist from the first, and the novel is permeated by a single emotion—overwhelming sadness—expressed not only in his reaction to major defeats, but in small incidents such as the graphically described killing of a grizzly bear in which the wounded animal cries like a baby before its death. The novel's considerable strength lies in its adoption of the Indian point of view; however, in the midst of Joseph's extended sufferings the narrative thread does become a bit fuzzy. This one isn't intended to be...
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It is difficult to characterize ["Code Name Valkyrie"]. We know of course how to distinguish between history and historical fiction; the latter adds to the bare bones of recorded fact certain imagined conversations in detail, certain interpretations of public trends as they may be assumed to affect individuals, and "purple passages" which may or may not be true. But what are you going to do with biography?… [Many] of the multitude of details are drawn not from records, not from facts, but from the biographer's attitude toward life and the biographer's vivid and consistent imagination of the times. What then do we call such a book?
This "Code Name Valkyrie" raises the question. It is, after all, a...
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[Code Name Valkyrie] is given impact, immediacy, and sustained suspense through the author's effective novelistic style of writing. Opening with von Stauffenberg gaining consciousness after being severely wounded the narrative reviews his past, including his growing disillusionment with Hitler, through his reveries while recovering his strength and goes on to portray successfully his emotions and dedication to the necessity for Hitler's death during the conspiracy and actual assassination attempt. The treatment also gives a discerning portrayal of the ambivalent feelings of many Germans toward their Fuehrer and of a crumbling Reich under Allied attack.
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Forman merges two historical Yellow Birds [in The Life and Death of Yellow Bird]—one the son of Custer and a captive Indian princess, the other a medicine man follower of the Ghost Dance religion which precipitated the massacre at Wounded Knee…. Through Yellow Bird's eyes, the figures of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and others take on truly heroic proportions and his dreams invest the people's last stand with the grandeur of epic tragedy. This must be balanced against the novel's somewhat excessive self-importance, of which Yellow Bird's symbolic parentage is the best example: he is not just half white, but the son of General Custer himself; yet the significance of this remains ambiguous. Though more ambitious...
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Forman's rigorous definition of fascism [in Fascism: The Meaning and Experience of Reactionary Revolution] requires the confluence of a number of factors—fear of communism, state dominated capitalism, mass support for a charismatic leader, and national chauvinism with ultimate extraterritorial goals—that occurred only in Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy. After a brief history of these two states, Forman compares them to other governments and to movements in America and elsewhere that share some fascist characteristics. The greatest shortcoming of this approach is that Forman advances his own definition without indicating where other theorists might disagree. But his comments, as well as a prefatory...
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Which of the following "represent" anarchism today: Ralph Nader, hippies, student activists, astrologists, Hell's Angels, citizen-action groups, Maoist youth, Black Panthers, feminists or Gay liberation groups? Well, according to Forman [in Anarchism: Political Innocence or Social Violence] they all do. And if you can accept that, this is an otherwise fairly serious and responsible roundup of anarchist thought and practice. Of course, Forman gives only a sketch of each notable anarchist thinker; there is only a pale reflection of Bakunin, and a tenuous analogy between existentialism and anarchism is finessed in a few short paragraphs. As a first outline of the subject, this serves some purpose by defining the...
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[Anarchism] is a competent, well-researched, and sympathetic treatment of the principles of anarchism espoused by [Jean Jacques] Rousseau, Georges Sorel, Herbert Spencer, [Leo] Tolstoi, [Henry David] Thoreau, etc…. A valuable historical analysis, this introduces the philosophies of numerous individuals who are not generally mentioned in books for young readers. (pp. 63-4)
Janet G. Polacheck, "'Anarchism'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1975 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1975), Vol. 21, No. 9, May, 1975, pp. 63-4.
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Fifteen years after Gandhi's death an international band of peace marchers follows the mystic Babu on a pilgrimage across India and eventually into the path of an advancing Chinese army in the Himalayan highlands. Two young marchers, Paul and Janaki, see the march and India's misery in terms of faith and reason respectively and Paul's persistence as he follows Babu right up to the saint's fiery self-sacrifice vindicates his belief in the need for some sort of spiritual purification just as his final decision to marry Janaki marks a creative merger of the two philosophies. With such an ambitious theme, Forman's characters carry a heavy burden, especially since India's problems are presented unsparingly…. Under the...
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Although Forman's tendency to let the sociologist in him eclipse the artist is more evident than ever [in The Survivor], the saga of the Ullman family and, especially, of David who survives Auschwitz where his twin brother dies, is grim and deeply affecting…. [The] psychological battle is really joined between David and Saul, as one twin's determination to live stiffens while the other becomes one of the walking dead camp inmates call Musselmen. Forman doesn't stint on the horrible details and perhaps, considering the intended audience, some narrative distancing and interpretation is essential. Nevertheless, the style of commentary … does work to make the Ullmans' experience more representative, and less...
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The White Crow is no less than Adolf Hitler himself, and Forman asks us to travel inside that tortured mind from the traumatic deaths of Hitler's parents to its near breakdown in the wake of the unsuccessful beer hall coup. The characterization exerts a horrible fascination; one credits it from the outset with both psychological soundness and a ghastly particularity that goes beyond mere profile or case history. (The explanation of the origins of Hitler's anti-Semitism, largely drawn from [John] Toland's recent Adolf Hitler, might be debatable as fact but it fits here.) However, Forman never makes his demonic creation work for him to express any compelling viewpoint as one would expect from an adult...
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[The White Crow] treats the early years of Hitler's life … in the swooning style of old romances, and is, like those romances, trash. Forman misses no opportunity to put in the mind of young Hitler thoughts Hitler might say later that he had when young. The insipid language needs no comment…. Books like these are dangerous, in that, purporting to offer a more balanced view, they succeed only in minimizing or trivializing evil. Difficult as it is to face such murderous power, these books offer an escape hatch for readers who are unwilling to face the suffering that is necessarily a part of fascist rule in general, and the Nazis in particular.
Morris Rabinowitz, "'The...
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[Nazism is an] informative history of the Nazi party that demonstrates the inseparability of Hitler and the party he catapulted into power. Forman looks briefly at Hitler's early life and writings, as they influenced his later actions; examines the unique combination of social, political, and economic circumstances that spawned and perpetuated party activities until Germany's defeat in 1945; and sketches in Nazi war involvement. Although Forman is weak and sometimes contradictory in political analysis, fails to define the scope of his book and that of the Nazi party itself, and slights other party officials, he successfully captures an overall sense of the party's place in world history.
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Inflation is a short, easy-to-read book, spanning various pertinent aspects of the subject—the historical record, causes and cures, current prospects, etc. Authored by James D. Forman, who has to his credit several earlier topical books also written in highly readable style, this book seems particularly well-suited for readers wanting enlightened exposure relatively free of technical complexity….
Overall, this reviewer sees some genuine strengths in this work. There is wide coverage of major subject matter, arranged in an orderly manner, and presented throughout in a clear and simple manner that should appeal especially to the non-professional reader. In the opinion of this reviewer,...
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Forman takes on the troubles in Belfast in this latest sober contemplation of collective suffering and wrong. [In A Fine, Soft Day] the protagonist, a young Catholic teenager named Brian O'Brien, watches helplessly as brother Conor becomes a hardened Revolutionary (or so it seems until the tragic end) and a much younger brother follows him feverishly into the streets. Grania, the strong older sister, is a flaming, marching pacifist; but Forman seems to conclude despairingly that her sort is ineffectual and the fighters hopeless madmen. Forman well conveys the terrors of living under siege. The tension in the house is of a piece with the action on the streets, and the appropriately oppressive atmosphere never...
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The futility and tragedy of the conflict in Northern Ireland are eloquently expressed in this simple, direct, powerful story [A Fine, Soft Day]…. The adults that surround [Brian] are skillfully presented as a microcosm of the divergent forces that rend the city…. Grandfather Seamus reminisces about Ireland's past glories, and martyrs; Brian's father runs away; Mary, his mother, seeks solace in prayer. For the children life in Belfast presents fewer alternatives: Brian's older brother, influenced by Rory, becomes involved in terrorist activities while his younger brother, Kevin, wakes up in terror at night and can not remember what peace was like. Meanwhile, the reader follows the progress of a gun that will...
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Today's students will not know of Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andy Goodman, and Forman has done an especially fine job in resurrecting their memory [in Freedom's Blood]. (Schwerner takes on almost Gandhi-ish dimensions.) This is fiction based heavily on fact. Only the dialogue among the three young men and their murderers is fictionalized. We relive late spring in Mississippi where the only thing hotter than the weather was the hatred the KKKers felt for that "atheist," "goateed" "Jew" Schwerner and for those he represented…. It is believed that Chaney, a local Black youth, and Goodman, a New Yorker in Mississippi less than 24 hours, were killed simply because they were with Schwerner. There is a...
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With a cast of cartoon characters the author insists [in A Ballad for Hogskin Hill] that here on the hill is love, security and music. The story moves swiftly from one contrived situation to the next. Working together to thwart the advance of strip mining, the Kentucky people moonshine, cheat on welfare, sing revival hymns and rejoice in repetitive unwed motherhood. Davey commits one large violent act against the coal company, slings his homemade banjo over his shoulder and heads for the highway. Not recommended … because its only strength, the humor, is achieved by stereotyped situations and characterizations. (pp. 29-30)
Betty S. Reardon, "Reviews: 'A Ballad for...
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In recent literature, there have been many books of fiction dealing with the basic problem of a choice between traditional values and modern ways of life. There are also many books about a world of technology, sophistication, and complications of our society pushing out all that is traditional and part of a heritage.
A Ballad for Hogskin Hill is a fine addition to this category. The author, James Forman, has written many other books about crises of this century and ways of dealing with them. This particular story deals with a boy named David and his family, who are having their way of life threatened by the new strip-mining industry. The characterizations are excellent; they are enough to make...
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[Freedom Road, previously titled Freedom's Blood,] is a "fictional reconstruction of the first weekend of that Freedom Summer" in 1964, during which three young civil rights workers were murdered by the Klan and its police allies. Because the occasion is still so vivid to anti-racists over thirty-five …, it is difficult to consider this as any sort of fiction. Michael Schwerner, the principal white character, is fleshed out by the author. James Chaney, the Black in the trio, is somewhat less clearly depicted. Andrew Goodman, the other white who arrived in the South one day before he was murdered, remains a shadowy, peripheral character. The story unfolds with chilling suspense—even for this reader...
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Of all writers for young adults, James Forman stands out as the best war novelist. His books come closer than most to catching the misery and stink of war coupled with the pathos of real people caught up in events they cannot comprehend or manage. Perhaps most significant, Forman's novels give us heroes, believable ones, in the midst of war, acting as heroes might, unsure, frightened, bewildered, and horrified. Yet his characters have strength and nobility. They would probably deny the last adjective, but they would be wrong. Ceremony of Innocence, his best book, is based on an actual episode, but even had it not been factually documented, readers would have believed the events could have happened. We need to...
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