Norma Klein 1938–
American novelist, short story writer, and poet.
An author of fiction for all ages, Klein is best known for her socially realistic novels for pre-teens and teenagers. These differ from traditional young adult novels in their frank and sympathetic treatment of unconventional subjects, their implicitly feminist viewpoint, and their candid depiction of alternative lifestyles. For example, Mom, the Wolf Man and Me (1972), Klein's first and most commercially and critically successful novel, is narrated by a well-adjusted eleven-year-old girl whose mother has never been married. The story involves the girl's relationship with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, the "Wolf Man."
Nearly all of Klein's works deal with love and family conflicts and feature female protagonists. Klein considers herself a feminist and writes for "girls who are active intellectually, who are strong, interesting people." Thus, Love Is One of the Choices (1979) tells of two high school friends who experience their first love affairs and the conflicts the affairs cause with their personal and professional goals. Like this novel, many of Klein's works involve the sexual initiation of her protagonists. Although abortion is treated in some of her stories, as are other problem subjects such as lesbianism and divorce, Klein does not present pregnancy and emotional scarring as the inevitable result of teenage sex.
Critical reaction to both the subject matter and the literary value of Klein's work has been divided. Some critics question the appropriateness of the language she uses and the situations she portrays; they often object to the explicit sex scenes and her depiction of parents who condone premarital sex. Other critics feel that Klein's work has filled a need for novels which treat changing contemporary values in a frank and accepting manner. Many critics, however, even those who approve of her treatment of controversial issues, find her characters underdeveloped and her plots simplistic. They contend that her overly optimistic view of life leads her to understate the pain and conflict inherent in many of her situations. For instance, one critic has noted that in It's Not What You Expect (1973), Klein treats abortion as a purely financial problem. However, critics often praise the realism of her dialogue, her sensible, humorous tone, and her portrayal of parents as people with problems and weaknesses of their own. They cite these, as well as her compassion and frankness, as the source of Klein's popularity among young adults.
In Klein's adult works, which include short story collections as well as novels, the protagonists are older but the thematic concerns are similar to those in her young adult fiction. For example, Give Me One Good Reason (1974), like Wolf Man, involves a woman who decides to have a child even though there is no man in her life. Klein's short stories are generally considered her most successful works of adult fiction; her recent collection, Sextet in A Minor (1983), contains the short story "The Wrong Man," which received an O. Henry award in 1983.
(See also Children's Literature Review, Vol. 2; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 41-44, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 7.)
Except for the raffish effrontery of the closing "Apocalypse at the Plaza," the opener [of Love and Other Euphemisms], a short novel really, is both the smartest and the sharpest in this collection of reasonably sophisticated see-through stories. The novella is "Pratfalls" in which Rachel is the rather imperturbable casualty of the contemporary scene … and it is all quite funny. In between, the episodes deal with more susceptible young women, uncertain to unstable to unhappy, and only one of them ("The Boy in the Green Hat") relies on a somewhat trickier device for its double-take denouement…. The stories are glossy (in fact two of them appeared in Mademoiselle and Cosmopolitan), alert and easily entertaining.
A review of "Love and Other Euphemisms," in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. XL, No. 9, May 1, 1972, p. 552.
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Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Motherhood is sacred. But only when it happens to married women.
Children are precious. But only when they're born after the wedding. Mothers and children who fail to satisfy the above qualifications are somehow rendered less sacred and less precious. Society has a name for such unfortunate deviates from the American norm. We call them "unwed mothers" and "illegitimate children"—two categories which just happen to coincide with the Library of Congress catalog listings assigned to Norma Klein's novel. "Mom, the Wolf Man and Me." …
[If we were to steer] clear of a book bearing such socially tragic labels, [we] would miss meeting an extraordinary, dear, funny bunch of almost ordinary people: 11-year-old Brett, who worries that her mother will get married and turn normal; kooky, competent Mom—photographer, peace-marcher, iconoclast in blue jeans who treats her daughter as a full-fledged person; Grandma, who never quite comes to terms with her daughter's way of life; Grandpa, as enviable a father-figure as any girl could wish—a sensitive, compassionate psychoanalyst who keeps an imaginary alligator in his tub; Theo (whom Brett dubs The Wolf Man), a bearded bear of a man who teaches the mentally retarded, bakes bread and talks "in this very regular way, as though he didn't know you were a child and he wasn't"; and all the other friends with their very human problems familiar to children's lives though not...
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There is an unmistakable flatness to ["Love and Other Euphemisms"]…. The euphemisms she writes about are "marriage," "divorce," "separation," "affairs," "engagements," but none of the characters seem convincingly alienated or bitter or agonized or angry enough to want to refer to "love" euphemistically. They are all too polite.
Her collection contains one novella, "Pratfalls," and five short stories, three of which to all intents and purposes are about the same sort of Jewish girl as Rachel Ovcharov Wittiker, the heroine of the novella, who wants to be interesting, wants to have people talk about her, but who instead of making things happen waits for things to happen. (p. 31)
Her strengths as a writer lie in her obviously good eye for detail but her weakness is her characters. In "Magic" the girl spends the weekend with her prospective in-laws, a brother-in-law who has had a nervous breakdown and not thoroughly recovered, and the tensions that one is to believe are created by the banality of her anticipated surroundings are enough to make the girl want out. But who says she deserves any better? In "An American Marriage" a couple decide to consult separate analysts before calling an end to their marriage. And the girl, while at her analyst's office, says, "God, make me a more interesting neurotic." Amen. In "Apocalypse at the Plaza" a wife calls her ex-husband and invites him to lunch with her now-husband. It is...
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Marilyn R. Singer
Norma Klein has a fund of right ideas on life and is giving them to just the right age group. Pre-teens are concerned about how they will shape their lives, but they rarely find any clues in the fiction written for them. [In Mom, the Wolf Man and Me] they are treated to a commendably honest view of the way some people choose to live. Though the 11-year-old narrator Brett and her friends are always in the foreground, the grown-ups actually dominate the story. This won't offer any identification problems for young readers, however, because for once the adults are as human as the children (Brett's mother in particular); they are still growing, changing, having problems, trying solutions…. [Brett] loves her mother and their free style of life, prefers it to the more conventional homes of her friends, and is only occasionally hassled by society's reactions to it. If anything, the author makes Brett almost too matter of fact, but it's a good antidote to the controversial issues: if the 11-year-old narrator can be so casual about her mother not being married and having intercourse then there's no reason for readers and librarians to get upset. The only other fault that might be found here is the relative lack of action…. Rich characters and dynamic interactions, much humor and warmth are the book's justification. Best of all, the author makes readers aware that their lives will be shaped by the values they have. And it's all done without preaching!...
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Lois E. Savage
["It's Not What You Expect"] can be consumed in one delicious, non-stop gulp. It is a smooth witty tale which makes one laugh out loud. The action revolves around Oliver and Carla, fourteen-year-old twins, who master-mind a scheme for opening a gourmet restaurant during summer vacation.
Upon leaning back to let the story settle into place, one becomes aware that this book is a very slick statement about the diversity of moral codes prevalent in the America of 1973. The twins react differently to the separation of their parents, their father's affair, and the abortion performed on the girl friend of an older brother in the family.
Carla clearly is upset…. Oliver, on the other hand, has the last word. He equates maturity with acceptance of such things as a natural, normal part of life. Only a naive romantic would lose sleep over them.
The question is, which attitude do you wish to present to young adult readers?
Lois E. Savage, in a review of "It's Not What You Expect," in Best Sellers, Vol. 33, No. 4, May 15, 1973, p. 98.
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If there were a single word to describe "It's Not What You Expect," it might be "modest." But "modest" only in the very best sense of that word: restrained, unpretentious, calm, clear, unconfused. In the young adult genre, this is a rare set of attributes. Norma Klein, author of "Mom, the Wolf Man and Me," is not only singularly adept at delineating fine female characters but knows she shouldn't impose Categorical Imperatives on her young readers. Indeed her novels reveal that life is a mystery and a pretty good one, at that. (p. 8)
To salvage what portends to be an emotionally tense summer, Carla and her twin brother Oliver (a food maven) and her 18-year-old brother Ralph and several other young friends start a restaurant, and their project succeeds. Moreover, through some trip-mechanism of fate, in mentioning Ralph's girlfriend's abortion to her mother, Carla discovers that her mother had not only had a love affair (and abortion) prior to meeting Carla's father, but that the young man's tragic death had left deep—unspeakably deep—scars. This revelation, coming from a woman at a time when things seem to have hit rock-bottom, makes Carla feel grown-up, priviledged to be female and closer to the woman whom she'd previously regarded as a maternal anomaly. When the marital crisis is over, Carla sees her parents as individuals with experiences and problems unconnected to the family. With her father's return, things aren't quite the...
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Why shouldn't an intelligent and independent thirty-two-year-old woman have a baby by her lover whom she doesn't want to marry? One good reason why is that if she's snappish, surly, and selfish as this female narrator, no child needs her. This very slight novel [Give Me One Good Reason], told from the point of view of a heroine with the impossible name of Gabrielle Van de Poel, recounts the impact Gabrielle's decision has on her liberated, arty parents, her earth-mother sister who makes raising two children seem a herculean task, and her sister-in-law who hates children. Because nobody in this novel suffers from any moral strictures—among the various characters there is an unbelievable number of abortions and extramarital affairs—I kept wondering what Gabrielle was making such a fuss about. (pp. 376-77)
I found the characters cold, unconvincing, and endlessly manipulative of other people, especially the metallic Gabrielle. On the other hand, the writing is sparse and clean, with crisp dialogue and an insistence on concrete details that gives the book a certain immediacy. Let's say if the reader's idea of the good life is found among the values portrayed in New York Magazine, that reader might find this book meaningful, significant, and oh, so real. I didn't. (p. 377)
Eileen Kennedy, in a review of "Give Me One Good Reason," in Best Sellers, Vol. 33, No. 16, November 15,...
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What a winning novel Norma Klein has written—for young people of all ages and for free spirits everywhere. Reading Give Me One Good Reason—her first full-length adult novel—is like spending time in the company of an open-minded, tactful, decent, and generous friend….
Her output is an example of reciprocity between children's and adult literature. In Klein's children's books, her respect for her young readers is marked by her inclusion, in a fashion totally integral to the story, of preoccupations and materials which used to be the exclusive preserve of so-called adult novels: illegitimacy …, divorce or separation …, sexual intercourse between unmarried adults…. In Give Me One Good Reason, Klein shows her adult readers, in turn, an affection along with an ability to beguile and convert the mood by employing those story-facilitating devices—things happen constantly and for the most part end happily—that are the traditional hallmarks of children's literature.
In this newest novel she touches such adult preoccupations as affection between the sexes, relations between parents (wed and unwed) and children (small and grown), relations between sisters and sisters-in-law and brothers, adults and children not their own, and—as they say—love and work. Given her technique, it's hardly surprising that the novel has something of the character of an adult fairy tale. Things frequently work...
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[In "Taking Sides," the] author has probed another unusual family situation with her customary frankness and stylistic flair that just avoids glibness. Twelve-year-old Nell is getting used to her parents' second divorce…. She copes with New York sophistication and a superdeveloped sense of responsibility until her father has a heart attack…. One wonders if in revealing the human frailties of parents, the author might be creating a breed of over-mature children; in spite of this, her story is readable and speaks openly to the concerns of many preadolescents.
A review of "Taking Sides," in The Booklist, Vol. 70, No. 22, July 15, 1974, p. 1254.
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After their second marriage and divorce (to each other) Nell's parents arrange that Nell and her younger brother Hugo will live in New York with Dad, who writes science books at home, while Mom will live in the country with her friend Greta and commute to her New York job….
The ups and downs of living with Dad … are related to us by Nell in a meandering fashion. ["Taking Sides"] drags along, evoking in the reader a sense of having been trapped by a self-important bore, the you'll-never-guess-what-happened-to-me person who grabs your arm at a party and tries to implant meaning to an inconsequential tale with frenetic hand motions and overemphasized phrases.
The musings of lackluster Nell create a novel that is sitcom slick but prose poor….
All Nell hands over to us is information—snippy remarks about helpless Arden [her father's girlfriend], admiring words for outdoorsy loner Greta, predictable bickerings with Hugo, amazement at a woman "being so fat and being married." But the subtle shadings of feelings and wonderings that lie beneath the surface of real people are never revealed or examined.
Although she tells us she's the smartest one in her class, Nell can't differentiate in intensity between asking her grandma for a Tampax and trying to extract a vital promise from her father after his heart attack. "Do you promise to live until I'm grown up with my own family?" "I...
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[A book like Mom, the Wolf Man and Me] can easily suffer from the wrong kind of comment. The picture of an unmarried mother who makes a virtue out of her situation could offend those who believe that books of this kind should always classify and computerize good and bad. It would be a pity if such a shrewd, perceptive study of individuals were outlawed or, conversely, if it were praised for a courageous stand against convention. In fact this is an expert example of first-person narrative, in which every detail and every conversation, reported or direct, is properly related to Brett, the speaker throughout. From her comments we can deduce a great deal about the smugly conventional Evelyn, who gets her ideas from A Child's Guide to Divorce and is so disastrously unprepared for life; about Grandma, who deplores her daughter's way of life, and Grandpa, who believes in freedom and courage; above all, we can guess at what Brett partly understands, her mother's approach to life. It is a relief to read a book written in a mood so far from the usual lugubrious, sickly or melodramatic tone of novels for the 'teens. Norma Klein's crisp, witty, intelligent style indicates that she is primarily interested in character—in the fascinating differences between one human being and another, the surprising effect they can have on one another. To do this through the words of a girl of eleven—brash, abrupt, unintrospective, sometimes naïve—is a real...
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[The Sunshine Years, a sequel to Sunshine,] is composed of nine sequential episodes based on the TV series. Sam, a young leader of a struggling singing group, married Jill's mother, Kate, just before she died of cancer at 20. Raising a young daughter by himself, Sam suffers from typical mother-hen-type fears and doubts…. Though it's contemporary and fast reading, the use of profanity is questionable, as is the inconsistency of Sam's sexual code when he has affairs with sexually liberated Nora and ambitious Montana Smith (a girl) while Jill is asleep upstairs yet stutters with embarrassment when Jill matter-of-factly and innocently tells it like it is between him and Montana using terms Sam has obviously employed to explain sex to her.
Margaret Strickland, in a review of "The Sunshine Years," in School Library Journal, Vol. 22, No. 8, April, 1976, p. 90.
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As readers frequently eluded by lovely apartments, interesting work and pleasant affairs may suspect, Norma Klein's approach to life is as resolutely cheerful as a suburban breakfast nook…. [In "Girls Turn Wives," nothing] seems to stop—or even momentarily waylay—her characters from growing, learning, fulfilling themselves. Even the disruption of Jess's marriage by her husband's infatuation with a wraithlike woman poet eventually serves to straighten out her marital difficulties and make her a better wife. It's nice that someone is telling women they can have both children and a career, that best of all possible worlds…. But Jess and Hannah's problems are solved so smoothly one can't help wondering if they ever really existed.
Katha Pollitt, in a review of "Girls Turn Wives," in The New York Times Book Review, April 25, 1976, p. 49.
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ALLEEN PACE NILSEN, KAREN B[EYARD-] TYLER, and LINDA KOZAREK
If in their reading, reluctant readers are looking for an emotional experience, then they want the highs and the lows to be packed tight against each other. They haven't much patience with the long drawn out in-betweens. They want struggles where the odds are great and everything is super-sized.
One such struggle, with which most teenagers are now familiar, is the story of Jacquelyn M. Helton, the young mother who learns at eighteen that she has fatal bone cancer. Norma Klein's novel Sunshine is based on the television movie suggested by Helton's journals. Readers, reluctant and enthusiastic, who wept over the movie and watched the resulting TV special, will want to read this touching and unavoidably moving novel. The first person narrative is written in the honest and occasionally introspective style which permits identification with the brave young woman as she struggles to keep alive her hopes and dreams. (p. 93)
Alleen Pace Nilsen, Karen B[eyard-] Tyler, and Linda Kozarek, "Reluctantly Yours, Books to Tempt the Hesitant," in English Journal, Vol. 65, No. 5, May, 1976, pp. 90-3.∗
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Margaret Burns Ferrari
I read Norma Klein's story for adolescents, Mom, the Wolf Man and Me, with delight, and so I was anxious to read and review her new novel, Girls Turn Wives. I was disappointed. The freshness she brought to a story about a girl, her divorced mother and her mother's new boyfriend, has deteriorated into empty trendiness in Girls Turn Wives. In telling the story of two 37-year-old Barnard alumnae who are still friends, one a lean, frigid, career-oriented intellectual and the other a frumpy, unaccomplished but happy mother of three, Klein uses every cliché imaginable and almost no irony at all.
Right now, there is so much fiction and drama about women discovering themselves that the subject is becoming trite…. Without fresh insights, there is little to recommend another novel on the theme, and Norma Klein does not bring any.
Her writing leaves out the real complexities of living…. Problems are easily solved, death is quickly sidestepped, affairs are gracefully ended with no one hurt, husbands and wives are charmingly reunited after separations, no one is lonely for long and kids say the cutest things. Klein writes like a Walt Disney staff writer, which is irritating in a novel that clearly wishes to represent social reality….
What is most annoying about Klein's book is that it might have been quite good. Instead, it suffers from the superficiality of Judith Rossner's Looking...
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Ann A. Flowers
[Hiding] is well-titled, for hiding is the central idea in the plot and the key to the character of the heroine. Eighteen-year-old Krii Halliday has been an introvert all her life. She chooses to attend—instead of an American college—a ballet school in London, hoping to cover her self-consciousness by a costume and by what she assumes will be considered her foreign peculiarities…. Krii becomes involved almost unwillingly in a rather dreary love affair with Jonathan, a young English choreographer, and when he suddenly marries another girl because he is enraged at Krii's inability to express her feelings, she becomes even more secretive…. Realizing that she is too small to become a first-class ballet dancer and depressed by Jonathan's marriage, she returns home and impulsively hides for a week in the attic of her parents' house. Somewhat unconvincingly, the author uses this brief respite to give her the courage to return to the world, enter college, and fight her constant impulse to hide herself away. Her quiet, introspective personality, her cool observation, and her secretiveness seem real; and although her struggles to escape from herself are rather touching, they can be almost as irritating to the reader as they were to Jonathan. (pp. 629-30)
Ann A. Flowers, in a review of "Hiding," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LII, No. 6, December, 1976, pp. 629-30.
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A simple little novel that deserves popularity is Norma Klein's Hiding…. This short book is about an eighteen-year-old girl who is spending a year in London studying ballet. She stumbles into a love affair that forces her to re-evaluate her life goals, her personality, and her family. She has a very fecund sister, an aloof and sometimes sarcastic brother, and parents who have a most unconventional relationship. How our little ballerina changes—and what changes she initiates—are intriguing. Hiding documents far more than the life-changing week she spends in her parents' attic. Both the dialogue and characters are plausible and while this book is primarily directed at young readers, I think that it has tremendous appeal to readers of any age. I relished every page.
Marilyn Willison, "Feminist Front," in West Coast Review of Books, Vol. 3, No. 2, March, 1977, p. 58.∗
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[In It's OK If You Don't Love Me] 17-year-old Jody enjoys sex and takes informed precautions to avoid pregnancy…. Jody spends a lot of time analyzing her actions in an annoyingly flip way, a trait she comes by naturally since her twice-divorced mother discusses having her tubes tied as if she were deciding to have her shoes shined. Conversations between characters are very frank, often including a smattering of four-letter words, but Klein is disappointingly blasé in dealing with the real decisions young high school age women must make about the opposite sex.
Carol Schene, in a review of "It's OK If You Don't Love Me," in School Library Journal, Vol. 23, No. 9, May, 1977, p. 83.
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Norma Klein has a nice sense of what teen-agers today might be feeling about themselves, each other, their bodies and minds, their friends and parents…. ["It's O.K. If You Don't Love Me"] is low-key, credible, frank and gutsy….
[The] author manages to write in an open, intelligent manner about such potentially ticklish subjects as contraception, pregnancy, racial, religious and regional prejudice [and] mother-daughter jealousy…. Despite all this, you never have the sense that you are getting an informational handbook dressed up as a novel.
Best of all, Norma Klein avoids the darkest and most dangerous pitfall of an adult writing a dramatic story about adolescents: She is never condescending. One ends the book liking not only the teen-age characters but also the author who had the empathy, understanding and talent to create them.
Dan Wakefield, "Firepersons and Other Characters," in The New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1977, p. 10.∗
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Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide
Told in the first-person, Hiding is painfully introspective. So much is crammed into its pages however, that no event or character (except its narrator's) is explored in any depth. The reader is left unsure whether to sympathize with its supersensitive heroine, or to find her ridiculous. Still, readers who can ignore the strain on their credulity will find a certain appeal in the story, especially if they also at time have felt like retreating from the rat race—and who has not?
C.B.J., in a review of "Hiding," in Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, Vol. XII, No. 1, Winter, 1978, p. 9.
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With minimal plot and maximal dialogue, the author brings [the two protagonists of Love Is One of the Choices] through their respective sexual awakenings and to new realization of their inner—and outer—selves. Klein's characters are reactions against stereotypes: a father who cooks and a mother who doesn't, a boy who loves Alice in Wonderland, and lots of people over forty who admit to having and enjoying sex. The book moves right along, with many very funny conversations. But the world she has created is a rarefied one, in which everyone is brilliant and/or sophisticated, and there is always time to talk. It's fun to visit, but does anyone really live there?
Joyce Smothers, in a review of "Love Is One of the Choices," in Library Journal, Vol. 103, No. 20, November 15, 1978, p. 2351.
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[In "Love Is One of the Choices,"] Caroline and Maggie, seniors at a Manhattan private school, both children of divorced parents, have simultaneous love affairs—Caroline with Justin, the 28-year-old married (but separated) science teacher for whom she baby-sits, and Maggie with Todd, a boy from another school, whom she meets during a debating contest. Maggie, a raging feminist, fights the pull toward committed love that draws Caroline so dangerously.
The writing is pleasant enough but irritatingly simplistic…. What happens to the young people is moderately interesting, but I really wanted to know more about the briefly-dealt-with parents who have chosen to bring up teenagers in the city and must decide about things such as sex in the apartment, for themselves and their children…. But if I were 18 and at Brearley again, I think I'd like this book. The issues that once preoccupied 21-year-olds have moved back four years and are described here openly and rather engagingly, and the adult world doesn't seem too forbidding.
Nora Johnson, "Love and Madness," in The New York Times Book Review, March 25, 1979, p. 28.∗
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A pleasant surprise from an author whose recent work has been disappointing is Love Is One of the Choices, by Norma Klein. Ever since Mom, the Wolfman, and Me, we have been hoping for another book from her that takes a look at modern manners with compassion and wit. Love Is One of the Choices is that book—but much, much more. No junior novel, this, but a fully articulated and insightful double love story. The contrast between fiercely independent Maggie and artistic and dreamy Caroline is accentuated by the men they choose for first lovers. Brilliant Maggie meets her match in pleasant, determined Todd, and Caroline's fantasy love for Justin, her high school science teacher, becomes reality when his neurotic wife leaves him. Both young women struggle, but in different ways, to keep their own identities in the face of the temptation to surrender to emotional security.
A source of tension for the reader is that each appears to have chosen the man that would be right for the other. In the end the characters explore this perception and then set it aside. The story has a wealth of funny or poignant moments that hang in the memory: the friendly intellectual sparring between Maggie and her psychiatrist father, fragile Caroline's terror at a quarrel with Julian, Maggie and Todd's cheerful and matter-of-fact first bedding. Here is a love story that we can give to YA's without apology.
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Similar to Judy Blume's Forever in style and appeal, this slick screenplay novelization [French Postcards] will be popular with teenage readers. Three nice American college kids arrive in Paris for their junior year abroad, and each embarks on his/her own sexual odyssey…. The protagonists spend a disproportionately small amount of time worrying about academics. Most of the local color seems to be straight from Fodor or Fielding. Sexual encounters, while casual and very frequent, are not explicitly described. (pp. 2236-37)
Joyce Smothers, in a review of "French Postcards," in Library Journal, Vol. 104, No. 18, October 15, 1979, pp. 2236-37.
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Paula J. Todisco
[French Postcards] purports to chronicle the activities of four young American students during a year of study in Paris, but the backdrop might as well be Hoboken, or the moon, for all the attention given to developing a sense of locale. The so-called students carry adolescent self-absorption to a ludicrous extreme, concerning themselves solely with not missing any opportunity to "do it" with some of the natives (they also do not have to worry about birth control, pregnancy, or VD). The characters, both American and European, are unencumbered by personalities, depth, or much in the way of feelings (with the exception of sexual desire). Unfortunately, the forthcoming movie and Klein's name on the cover of the paperback are sure to bring demands for this very poorly written title filled with vulgar language. (p. 97)
Paula J. Todisco, in a review of "French Postcards: A Screenplay Novelization," in School Library Journal, Vol. 26, No. 3, November, 1979, pp. 96-7.
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The sexual fantasies and emotional realities of late adolescence are depicted [in French Postcards] with Klein's customary skill and stylistic shorthand as the initial risks of entering the world of adult relationships set up the characters for an often bewildering speed course in psychological maturation.
A review of "French Postcards: A Novel," in Booklist, Vol. 76, No. 8, December 15, 1979, p. 595.
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C. Nordhielm Wooldridge
The summer 15-year-old Alison Rose [of Breaking Up] spends in California with her father and his wife throws several wrenches into her normally easy-going life. A sudden attraction for best friend Gretchen's older brother Ethan creates problems in the girls' relationship; and then there are the ugly things Daddy starts saying about Mom and close friend Peggy. In the end, Ali concludes that "there are different ways of loving people."… Executed in the facile, first-person style of an author not writing but merely recording what her protagonist is thinking, this is no literary gem. The plot is slow getting started and the juxtaposition of the mother's healthy, loving lesbian relationship with the father's insecure traditional marriage is too carefully orchestrated.
C. Nordhielm Wooldridge, in a review of "Breaking Up," in School Library Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2, October, 1980, p. 156.
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Ali is into sex, masturbation, and reading Playgirl, and she is concerned with all of life that centers on her own narrow world. Conversation (and [Breaking Up] is mainly conversation) is about bodily development, lifestyles, going braless, and making out. The book suffers from lack of story, from stereotyped characters, and from uninteresting (or no) plot—what we call meaningless writing. It is too bad that the writer of Mom, the Wolf Man and Me would foist this on us.
Very young adolescents may read this because of their interest in sex and development, but Breaking Up will never make C. S. Lewis' qualification that a good book for young people must also have meaning for adults; my seventeen year old and I both found it insipid.
Norma Bagnall, in a review of "Breaking Up," in The ALAN Review, Vol. 8, No. 3, Spring, 1981, p. 13.
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An assertive, healthy lesbian parent is featured in … [Breaking Up], one of the few books for teenagers which presents homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.
On a summer visit to her re-married father in California, fifteen-year-old, middle-class Ali develops a gradual awareness, understanding and eventual acceptance of her mother Cynthia's relationship with Peggy….
Throughout the novel, Ali becomes clearer about her own sexuality as well…. Such issues as jealousy, sexual relationships, divorce, pregnancy, abortion and love are explored realistically and matter-of-factly.
I have several criticisms of the book. Although the usual stereotypes of lesbians (masculine, man-hating, unsatisfied women) are contradicted, not enough information is provided about Cynthia and Peggy's relationship. Ali and her mother have a moving discussion about Cynthia's lifestyle, but it does not tell the reader much about her mother's daily life, personality or beliefs.
In addition, the negative comments about the lesbian lifestyle from Ali's father are left uncontradicted, even when Ali decides to return to New York. Readers could conclude that Harold's biased opinions are valid.
Furthermore, homosexuality is not presented as an option for teenagers in this book, though there is clearly a character (Ali's best friend Gretchen) who does not fit into heterosexual...
(The entire section is 287 words.)
The greatest frustration in reading [Domestic Arrangements] is the seeming lack of concrete values toward sexuality and life in general presented by the parents of two teenage daughters, Tatiana and Cordelia. The sophistication level of the mother, Samantha, is indistinguishable from that of her daughters. For example, when 14 year old Tatiana asks if her boyfriend can sleep overnight with her, Mom replies, "sure, for how long?" with little concern. The daughters model Samantha's tendency to flirt, cajole, and manipulate Neil, the father. Neil is a noncommittal character. When Tatiana asks her father for a diaphragm for a Christmas present (her 16 year old sister had received one the year before) Dad's response is, "I don't feel comfortable with the idea, you're fourteen sweetheart. That's still extremely young." As a reader this was quite disturbing; after all Dad has been very much aware of Tatiana's intimate relationship with her boyfriend for several months.
We question the audience Norma Klein directed this book toward. The messages and values presented throughout make us feel this book is inappropriate for school library consideration.
Deborah Hollander, in a review of "Domestic Arrangement," in Voice of Youth Advocates, Vol. 4, No. 4, October, 1981, p. 34.
(The entire section is 195 words.)
As the plot [of Wives and Other Women] flashes between 1970 and today, Klein relates the story of three warm, sympathetic characters who point out the author's central themes—that women see each other as either wives or mistresses and that this can be a repeating pattern of their lives…. Full of insights, realistic dialogue, and warm and human interactions, this is engrossing and lively recommended reading.
Marilyn Lockhart, in a review of "Wives and Other Women," in Library Journal, Vol. 107, No. 11, June 1, 1982, p. 1112.
(The entire section is 83 words.)
Hit harder than her brother or sister by their parents' separation, 14-year-old Robin [narrator of The Queen of the What Ifs,] is even more disturbed by her father's affair with another woman…. Personal concerns about sex and romance surface to complicate her life further, but they take a clear second place to worries about her family. The portrait of the liberal, slightly offbeat Jewish family …, almost a hallmark of Klein's writing, is once again evoked, and the author demonstrates a sure feel for natural, realistic dialogue. But her fans will miss the force and energy of some of her previous books and find her characters, though quite likable, curiously insubstantial.
Stephanie Zvirin, in a review of "The Queen of the What Ifs," in Booklist, Vol. 78, No. 20, June 15, 1982, p. 1364.
(The entire section is 128 words.)
Much of [Wives and Other Women], which spans the years 1970–81, centers on conversations about the sexploits of several middle-aged characters. The message seems to be: Don't trust your spouse. She/he is cheating on you, most likely with someone she/he works with. So you might as well have your one-night stands too….
None of the characters is admirable. Even though they have interesting careers, they remain dull people who in futile attempts seek through sex an escape from the dullness of their lives.
Eve Simson, in a review of "Wives and Other Women," in Best Sellers, Vol. 42, No. 6, September, 1982, p. 218.
(The entire section is 101 words.)
[Sextet in A Minor] provides a wonderfully varied look at the way we live now in the novella, the title story, which contrasts the voices of two couples, the Tomlinsons (and their son Jimmy) whose marriage is disintegrating, and newlyweds who are just beginning. The sixth voice is Mr. Carlisle, a bachelor, another guest at the pensione in the Alps where they all stay on their brief holiday. Klein's counterpointing of contrasting voices is as amusing as it is moving…. Klein seems in complete control of her material, manages to capture speech patterns beautifully, and to probe carefully the emotions and sensibilities of those she describes. (pp. 47-8)
A review of "Sextet in A Minor: A Novella and Thirteen Stories," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 222, No. 25, December 24, 1982, pp. 47-8.
(The entire section is 128 words.)
William Bradley Hooper
Sexual attraction is the theme binding together [the stories in Sextet in A Minor]…. Dialogue—the major element in character/plot realization—is of central importance in each story. Klein has a fine ear for the word usage, rhythms, and hesitations found in both casual and impassioned speech. She places her characters in situations that are not deeply complicated; all the stories are easy to follow, yet not predictable, and all have one thread or another relevant to the common problems and resolutions that arise in daily life.
William Bradley Hooper, in a review of "Sextet in A Minor: A Novella and 13 Short Stories," in Booklist, Vol. 79, No. 15, February 15, 1983, p. 763.
(The entire section is 110 words.)
Near the end [of The Queen of the What Ifs] Mom talks about the value of love in terms other than sexual, but one statement cannot erase the opposite message developed throughout the book. Klein does not present a realistic picture of life. Instead she exploits teenage girls' natural interest in sex. There are careless mistakes: Mom is said to have attended two different colleges; Robin says she gives two cello lessons a week but describes three pupils; her friend Terry tours France but returns instead from Rome. Klein's fans may have no objections to The Queen …, but librarians may prefer more thoughtful and careful writing.
Marsha Hartos, in a review of "The Queen of the What Ifs," in School Library Journal, Vol. 29, No. 8, April, 1983, p. 125.
(The entire section is 126 words.)
Barbara Koenig Quart
Norma Klein's collection of stories, Sextet in A Minor, opens with the title novella, set at a Swiss lake resort. The choreography among its six characters … sounds the note of marital discontent and sexual musical chairs that continues through almost all the stories that follow. Most of these have New York City settings … vaguely Jewish, certainly wealthy and rather jaded and cynical. Written in prose that is lively, quick and sure, these tales of the mismarried, of stolen but unenthusiastic adulteries, of marriages that frame shock treatments and suicide confirm yet again that if marriage and men are still remarkably much on women writers' minds, it is mostly as disordered thoughts and bad dreams. (p. 741)
Barbara Koenig Quart, "First, the Bad News," in The Nation, Vol. 236, No. 23, June 11, 1983, pp. 738-41.∗
(The entire section is 130 words.)
An unlikely encounter between a used-car dealer and an expectant, unsettled, and distressed teenage couple sets off a chain of not-unforeseeable events. Klein's treatment of these troubled, searching individuals [in The Swap] is direct, poignant, and effective…. While the focus is on the dilemma of the teens, Klein's development of her adult characters—especially the car dealer, Misha Edelman, who is in a quandary over the recent death of his wife, son, and grandson—gives an extra dimension to the story of a too-young mother trapped in an unworkable marriage.
Denise P. Donavin, in a review of "The Swap," in Booklist, Vol. 79, No. 22, August, 1983, p. 1448.
(The entire section is 105 words.)
Lois A. Strell
Beginner's Love is hardly for beginners. And yet, what adult would bother reading a slow moving book about two 17 year olds just for a little sex? On the other hand, some teens would read a poorly written book, with shallow characters, minimal plot and insipid dialogue, just for a little sex. But in this case, they'd probably skim "for the good parts." Shy Joel has trouble meeting G-I-R-L-S…. Joel tells the story in first person "stream of ramble." The dialogue is written in Valley Girl talk ("Like, you know …," followed by some long-winded and tiresome thought). Every other sentence alludes to sex whether it's necessary or not…. The depth of dialogue, feeling and emotion is embarrassingly shallow. This makes [Judy Blume's] Forever seem like Pulitzer Prize material.
Lois A. Strell, in a review of "Beginner's Love," in School Library Journal, Vol. 30, No. 2, October, 1983, p. 180.
(The entire section is 144 words.)
Never one to shy away from the topic of sex …, Norma Klein's latest work addresses the intricacies of initial romantic and sexual rumblings. Beginners' Love chronicles several tumultuous months in the life of a shy and somewhat insecure 17-year-old. (p. 203)
Klein's novel is both explicit and thought-provoking. Joel's musings on sex and the relationship in general ring true, and the book contains a number of interesting minor characters. Only Leda's characterization is questionable, with her analogy between forgetting to brush her teeth sometimes and forgetting to insert her diaphragm sometimes being particularly inane for a supposedly intelligent young woman. Klein's explicitness and the somewhat casual abortion should insure controversy in some areas. Subject matter and readability, however, should insure popularity…. (pp. 203-04)
Kevin Kenny, in a review of "Beginners' Love," in Voice of Youth Advocates, Vol. 6, No. 4, October, 1983, pp. 203-04.
(The entire section is 140 words.)
Denise M. Wilms
Bizou is a French child born of a black American woman, Tranquility, who went to model in Paris and married a well-known photographer. After his death she stayed because the French, according to Tranquility, are much more tolerant on racial matters. Bizou, then, is quite cosmopolitan as she embarks on an American vacation with her mother. But then her mother disappears, leaving Bizou in the charge of Nicholas, a just-met fellow traveler who is about to start med school…. [Bizou] moves easily, and Bizou's dilemma is one that holds interest. Klein's development is a bit pat: Nicholas is a little too good to be true. Also, there is the occasional obscenity and almost obligatory portrayal of unconventional lifestyles that one expects from Klein. However, she is a practiced hand at keeping readers afloat. Never deep and sometimes irritating, this is nevertheless very readable and full of popular appeal.
Denise M. Wilms, in a review of "Bizou," in Booklist, Vol. 80, No. 4, October 15, 1983, p. 360.
(The entire section is 162 words.)
Klein's popular fast pace will attract readers unconcerned with her bland style, shallow characterization and an astoundingly unrealistic plot. She uses the problems of racism and child abandonment to make [Bizou] relevant, but fails to deal with them in any significant manner.
Anne Connor, in a review of "Bizou," in School Library Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3, November, 1983, p. 94.
(The entire section is 57 words.)