Virginia Hamilton is a master storyteller whose novels reveal young people caught in the act of learning hard lessons about living and growing. Her stirring stories teach young readers without preaching or patronizing. In A Little Love, Hamilton presents a compelling character in Sheema Hadley, an African American teenager who will appeal to many young female readers regardless of their race or ethnicity. This book marks a change in Hamilton’s approach to writing fiction for young people. Her previous works highlighted cultural themes important to young African American readers: the struggle for freedom, the proud heritage of people of African decent, and the quest for self-discovery. In this book, Hamilton begins to focus more on the theme of survival, a universal theme to which many young people can relate regardless of their background.
Survival of the deadly effects of parental abandonment is the major theme of A Little Love; it is a subject of significant importance to young people who live in broken and blended families where they have been physically and psychologically abused or abandoned by one or both parents. The emotional effects of the loss of a parent are similar for all young people. They feel anger that frequently borders on rage toward the parent who has abandoned them. They feel the pain of separation and lack the inner resources that they need to grieve the loss of the parent. They feel shame for being different from...
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Virginia Hamilton has written a number of acclaimed works—novels, short stories, and biographies—that enjoy places of eminence in the canon of juvenile and young adult literature. In 1974, she became the first author to win both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award for the same book, M. C. Higgins, the Great. It is unfortunate that A Little Love has not been as well received as Hamilton’s other works. It contains not only a model of survival from which young female readers will benefit but also a powerful example of an intergenerational relationship in Sheema and her supportive grandparents. For this reason alone, it deserves to be on supplemental reading lists for juvenile and young adult readers.
This book may also prove interesting to young adult and adolescent readers because of the dynamic dialogue of the book’s diverse characters. There is no single black dialect, as some people mistakenly believe; there are many. Hamilton has deftly preserved a record of the dialect of African American youths living in the Midwest. In the authentic voices of Sheema’s grandparents, the richness of the dialect of a previous generation is preserved. Finally, the vibrant differences between these two dialectical versions of black speech are further defined when contrasted to the language of African Americans in the Deep South.