Paula Danziger Essay - Critical Essays

Danziger, Paula

Introduction

Paula Danziger 1944–

American young adult novelist.

Following the tradition of Judy Blume and Norma Klein, Danziger writes fiction for young adults which portrays contemporary adolescent life realistically. Since the publication of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit in 1974, Danziger has become one of the most popular writers among young adults. Her appeal can perhaps be attributed to the fact that she combines realism with humor and addresses some of the more difficult aspects of growing up with candor and empathy.

A junior high school reading instructor, Danziger has based much of her work on her own life and on the experiences of her students. Cat, for instance, stemmed from the stormy relationship she had with her father; like Marcy, she was a perpetual failure in gym and had a younger brother who stuffed his teddy bear with orange pits. Danziger's funny, somewhat self-effacing middle-class heroines face a variety of problems as they move between school, family, and friends. Her novels present dilemmas to which teenagers can relate, ranging from simple feelings of inadequacy to the trauma of divorced parents.

Critical reaction to her novels has been mixed. While it is acknowledged that her subjects are relevant, some critics feel that she explores such important issues as peer pressure, challenged sexual mores, and parental insensitivity without depth or fresh insight. While granting that Danziger does not romanticize her characters or their situations, some critics feel that she dilutes reality to the point where her books are valuable only as light reading. However, her use of wit and humor is universally applauded, as is her ability to create believable heroines. Despite critical reaction, the wide readership of young adults has affirmed their appreciation of Danziger's sensitive, accurate portrayals of their concerns and feelings.

Cathy S. Coyle

The issues of teacher independence and student protest [in The Cat Ate My Gymsuit] are topical, and Marcy, an intelligent and enjoyable adolescent, is an appealing heroine; however, the ending is anticlimactic and unsatisfying … and some of the characters like Marcy's bullying father are stereotypes.

Cathy S. Coyle, "Junior High Up: 'The Cat Ate My Gymsuit'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1974 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1974), Vol. 21, No. 3, November, 1974, p. 62.

Kirkus Reviews

At its worst, [The Cat Ate My Gymsuit] is a trite and trendy saga of how a junior high English class gets it together to fight for the job of Ms. Finney—a paragon of an innovative teacher who puts across dangling participles and sensitivity sessions with equal ease. The only relief from cliche is the relationship between lumpish, insecure Marcy and her father—a frustrated, angry, non-verbal man who can show his love only through providing food and shopping trips. The parent who can't communicate his love and concern is no doubt a more common problem than alcoholism or divorce, but he's seldom dealt with this forthrightly in contemporary stories, where parents, whatever their faults, are usually articulate. Marcy's tense family situation is really the subject here; the instant therapeutic effect of Ms. Finney, a sort of denim-skirted deus ex machina, is a cop-out.

"Young Adult Fiction: 'The Cat Ate My Gymsuit'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1974 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLII, No. 22, November 15, 1974, p. 1206.

Veronica Geng

Barbara Finney is not exactly A. S. Neill, and "The Cat Ate My Gymsuit" stands in relation to literature as Judith Viorst's verses do to poetry. But it is funny and alive, and if it encourages readers to expect something more from teachers than they are getting, it is well worth [its price].

Veronica Geng, "'The Cat Ate My Gym Suit'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 5, 1975, p. 8.

Journal Of Reading

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit is such an unusual title that it is sure to arouse curiosity. If readers expect humor, they will get it, but it is well blended with worthwhile values and character development. (p. 333)

For all its marvelous humor, this book is still realistic. Marcy's sense of humor is a counterbalance to her father's negative influence and helps keep her going.

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit is a thoroughly enjoyable, tightly written, funny/sad tale of an unglamorous but plucky girl who is imaginative, believable, and worthy of emulation. (p. 335)

"Books for Young People: 'The Cat Ate My Gymsuit'" (copyright 1976 by the International Reading Association, Inc.; reprinted with permission of the International Reading Association), in Journal of Reading, Vol. 19, No. 4, January, 1976, pp. 333, 335.

Kirkus Reviews

Thirteen-year-old Cassie starts her first-person story [The Pistachio Prescription] with the assertion that "Pistachio nuts, the red ones, cure any problem," and she ends with "Twinkies, I bet, are the answer"—a fair enough indication of the level of growth that has transpired in between. And though Cassie does indeed have problems that neither pistachios nor twinkies can solve—chiefly, divorcing parents whose insensitivity brings on her frequent asthma attacks—her tone throughout is so glib and inauthentic that it's hard to believe in a real suffering child under all the predictably triggered hysterics. ("Sometimes I think my parents are wonderful, and sometimes I hate them" is a typical Danziger illustration of adolescent psychology.)… Not improbable, but shallow—a synthetic slice of "typical teenage" life.

"Young Adult Fiction: 'The Pistachio Prescription'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1978 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVI, No. 7, April 1, 1978, p. 379.

Zena Sutherland

The quotation from [Albert] Camus that precedes [The Pistachio Prescription] tells all: "In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."… Cassie begins to understand that the situation [between her parents] is irrevocable [and] that she can live through the years before she is able to leave home…. Not unusual in theme, this is unusually well done; the characterization and dialogue are strong, the relationships depicted with perception, and the writing style vigorous.

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'The Pistachio Prescription'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by...

(The entire section is 118 words.)

Selma G. Lanes

["The Pistachio Prescription"] is a novel no thoughtful 9- to 13-year-old should let parents see. They may not survive the instant ego deflation of viewing themselves through adolescent eyes…. On the other hand, Cassie's peers will surely identify with the ugly duckling heroine's inferiority complex, her hypochondria, her first love and her unexpected nomination for president of "the freshperson class" (my favorite phrase in the entire book). The work is really an extended monologue with lots of snappy one-liners, some good, some not…. And though her parents clearly seem headed for the divorce court by book's end, the heroine is beginning to make her own peace with them, and with the world as it is.

...

(The entire section is 141 words.)

Cyrisse Jaffe

Lively, believable and thoroughly readable, [The Pistachio Prescription] will have the same wide appeal as the author's previous book, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. Cassie is beset with some typical teenage insecurities…. Cassie, who believes her only salvation lies in compulsive pistachio eating, is an energetic and likable heroine. Readers will identify with her troubles at home and at school, and enjoy the skillful rendering of Cassie's growth and maturing. Despite an occasionally superficial passage and a resolution that moves too swiftly to be satisfying, the juxtaposition of Cassie's personal triumphs … and her parents' impending divorce adds the necessary depth….

...

(The entire section is 124 words.)

Zena Sutherland

[In Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?, Lauren's parents] give her trouble, particularly her father, who is domineering; she's also troubled by her parents' fighting. Such general problems are the background for a wry and humorous story of Lauren's coping with the conformity her classmates and friends expect…. While Lauren is confronting the generation gap, establishing independence, giving adherence to standards of social behavior, and other universal problems of the adolescent, the book has enough humor and breezy dialogue to make it fun to read, and enough solidity in characters and relationships to make it thought-provoking. (pp. 172-73)

Zena Sutherland, "New...

(The entire section is 143 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

Ninth-grader Lauren [in Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?] has a stereotypically impossible father (he rails against his wife going to work part-time; he disowns his college-age daughter for moving in with her boyfriend) and, like other Danziger heroines, she has "typical" concerns which are projected wholly from her shallow perspective…. Her ten-year-old sister Linda is dying for a training bra, so Lauren, remembering how important it was, gives her her old one—in a scene that makes Judy Blume's Margaret [in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret] seem complex. But Lauren's big problem is the flak she gets from other kids at junior high when she starts dating Zach, who is only in eighth grade...

(The entire section is 203 words.)

Jane Langton

["Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?"] takes place in the airless chamber of early adolescence.

The heavy problems of Lauren and Linda and Bonnie are: 1) Does it hurt to get your ears pierced? 2) Should ninth-grade girls go out with eighth-grade boys? 3) Should fifth-grade girls wear training bras?

The atmosphere is close and sweaty and mildly titillating, with cute boys on the telephone, copulating Ken and Barbie dolls, hair appearing or not appearing under the arm, and parents who are always fighting and deserve to be sued for malpractice….

[The book] is clever and funny. The chapters rush by in a catapulting present tense. Adolescent and preadolescent...

(The entire section is 281 words.)

FAITH McNULTY

[Paula Danziger is a writer like Judy Blume] who capitalizes on the sordid details of adolescence [and whose] "Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?"… is ruefully and relentlessly funny, in a style reminiscent of Erma Bombeck's. Danziger's heroine is fourteen, and, it says on the jacket, "her life is the pits."… In the end, the heroine feels a lot better because, in a moment of revelation, she accepts her dreary future. "My life's not going to drastically change," she muses. "It hardly ever does when you're a kid. My parents certainly aren't going to change that much…. What I am sure of is that I finally did something for myself, that I'm learning to do what I think is best for me." I took the last sentence...

(The entire section is 306 words.)

Natalie Babbitt

Miss Danziger's popularity, like Mrs. [Judy] Blume's, is easily explained, but the reasons for it are quite different. In spite of its trendy title, "Bunk Five" is not a funny story any more than its predecessor was—notwithstanding the frequent one-liner zingers in both—and Marcy's family life continues to be miserable, her father a monster, the communication gap a chasm. Marcy begins, of course, to learn tolerance and understanding at camp, to become, presumably, more "adult." But in the world Miss Danziger presents, adults, with a couple of exceptions, are two-dimensional, egocentric and small-minded. If this is really the case, why try to be one? But Miss Danziger is playing pretty much flat out for the...

(The entire section is 218 words.)

Zena Sutherland

In some ways [There's A Bat in Bunk Five] is the usual camping story of pranks, bunkmates, adjustment to separation from parents, etc. This doesn't, however, follow a formula plot; it has depth in the relationships and characterizations; and it's written with vigor and humor. Marcy learns not to expect too much from others, not to assume that all problems will—or can—be solved; she also learns not to expect too much from herself.

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'There's a Bat in Bunk Five'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1980 by the University of...

(The entire section is 116 words.)

Barbara Elleman

Danziger's ability to create believable, funny dialogue and to capture the feelings and thoughts of a 14-year-old is highly evident [in There's A Bat in Bunk Five]. Episodes roll along without much tension or drama, unfortunately, and what is there is too quickly resolved; but readers will be captivated by the natural flow and breezy style.

Barbara Elleman, "Children's Books: 'There's a Bat in Bunk Five'," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1980 by the American Library Association), Vol. 77, No. 8, December 15, 1980, p. 571.

(The entire section is 86 words.)

HARRIET McCLAIN

[In There's a Bat in Bunk Five the] author has skillfully balanced her insight into the daily trauma of the young adult years with liberal doses of humor. The book is neither didactic nor reeking of bibliotherapeutic intentions; yet junior-high readers should feel reassured by it.

Harriet McClain, "Junior High Up: 'There's a Bat in Bunk Five'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1981 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1981), Vol. 27, No. 5, January, 1981, p. 68.

(The entire section is 84 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

From Barbara's exemplary surrogate-parenting to Marcy's continuing lack of communication with her father and her new fear of her feelings when kissing Ted, [There's A Bat in Bunk Five] gives us pop-psychology profiles instead of imagined characters and shallow with-it attitudes instead of sincere probing. Danziger's fans probably won't mind, but neither will they be stretched an inch.

"Older Fiction: 'There's a Bat in Bunk Five'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1981 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLIX, No. 1, January 1, 1981, p. 12.

(The entire section is 79 words.)