Paula Fox Essay - Critical Essays

Fox, Paula (Vol. 121)

Introduction

Paula Fox 1923–

American novelist, essayist, and author of children's books.

The following entry presents an overview of Fox's career through 1996. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 2 and 8.

Fox is one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary American writers of children's and young adult fiction. Her writing for children has earned her numerous industry awards, including the Newbery Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal. Additionally, Fox has been praised for her novels for adults, many of which explore the small, private moments of despair and alienation in everyday life.

Biographical Information

Fox was born in New York City to Paul Harvey and Elsie de Sola Fox in 1923. Her parents rarely lived in one place for very long, and as a young child Fox was sent to live in New York's Hudson Valley with a minister and his invalid mother. There she developed a love for stories that later influenced her decision to become a professional writer. In 1931 Fox went to live with her maternal grandmother on a sugar plantation in Cuba, where she attended a one-room school and became fluent in Cuban Spanish. She returned to New York City three years later, when the revolution led by Batista y Zaldivar made Cuba socially and politically unstable. After high school Fox held many jobs, working as a machinist at one point and moving on to low-level positions at publishing companies and newspapers. After World War II she took a job with a leftist British news service, which sent her to cover post-war Poland. When she returned to the United States, she married and had children, but the marriage ended in divorce. Fox then attended Columbia University but never received her degree because of financial difficulties. Nonetheless, she worked as an English teacher for Spanish-speaking children. In 1962 Fox remarried and spent six months living in Greece while her husband, an English professor, held a Guggenheim fellowship. It was then that she decided to make writing a full-time career. Fox resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Major Works

Fox's writing for children and young adults is highly regarded because of the way Fox deals with difficult, often tragic, situations with neither sentimentality nor condescension toward her readers. Her second major work, How Many Miles to Babylon? (1967), is considered a classic in the young adult fiction genre. Ten-year-old James Douglas, an African-American child living in the inner-city, is left with three great-aunts after his mother enters a mental institution. In order to cope, James creates a fantasy life in which his mother is really a queen returned to Africa. He is drawn into a group of young thugs with a dog-napping scheme, taken to a Coney Island funhouse where the dogs are hidden, and, using his ingenuity and intelligence, escapes and rescues the dogs. When he returns home, he finds his mother there waiting for him. The Slave Dancer (1973), Fox's most acclaimed and most controversial book for young adults, tells the story of a kidnapped white child trapped on a slave ship. Thirteen-year-old Jessie is taken from his home onto a ship bringing slaves to the United States and forced to play his fife while the slaves are forced to dance to amuse their captors. Thrown into these nightmarish circumstances, Jessie attempts to retain his sense of morality and humanity. Fox's novel is a meticulously researched tale of innocence forced to face violent experience. One-Eyed Cat (1984) depicts the guilt a boy feels after shooting a cat in the eye. The complicated story that develops deals with family secrets and ultimate attempts at reconciliation. In Monkey Island (1991) a formerly middle-class boy finds himself abandoned and homeless in the city. In The Eagle Kite (1995) a teenager must come to terms with his parents' separation because of his father's homosexuality and later death from AIDS. Similarly, in Fox's fiction for adults, complex situations lead to alienation and often despair as characters attempt to find meaning and focus in their lives. In Desperate Characters (1970) a middle-class couple in New York are complacent about the distance between them, but the story gradually reveals deeper and more violent feelings destroying their relationship. Annie, the protagonist of The Western Coast (1972) drifts among people she cares little about, all of whom leave a bigger impression on her than she leaves on anyone. Finally, her search for meaning leads her to an unknown future in Europe. A Servant's Tale (1976) features a similar protagonist whose actions are often inscrutable. The illegitimate child of a servant and the son of a wealthy plantation owner in the Caribbean, Luisa spends her entire adult life quietly insisting on working as a servant, although her decision is misunderstood by everyone around her.

Critical Reception

While Fox is generally considered one of the most important authors of fiction for children and young adults, her work is not without detractors. The Slave Dancer, in particular, has received negative commentary from some critics who claim that Fox portrayed the captured Africans as weak and dispirited and the captors as victims of circumstance themselves. Nonetheless, the book won the prestigious Newbery Medal and is widely hailed as classic of children's literature. Fox's other works for young people, especially How Many Miles to Babylon?, are also praised for their integrity and honest presentation to children of complex social and personal issues. Fox's novels for adults have not been as well received, although many critics admit that the works are brilliant, if not likeable. Both The Western Coast and A Servant's Tale have been harshly reviewed because of the ambiguous, obscure natures of their protagonists; but other critics have found the novels appropriately weighty for their subject matter. Desperate Characters is Fox's most successful novel for adults. Pearl K. Bell observed that the book is "a small masterpiece, a revelation of contemporary New York middle-class life." Of the judgment that her works are "depressing," Fox has stated: "'Depressing,' when applied to a literary work, is so narrow, so confining, so impoverished and impoverishing. This yearning for the proverbial 'happy ending' is little more than a desire for oblivion."

Principal Works

Maurice's Room (juvenilia) 1966
How Many Miles to Babylon? (young adult novel) 1967
A Likely Place (juvenilia) 1967
Poor George (novel) 1967
Dear Prosper (juvenilia) 1968
Hungry Fred (juvenilia) 1969
The King's Falcon (young adult novel) 1969
Portrait of Ivan (young adult novel) 1969
Blowfish Live in the Sea (young adult novel) 1970
Desperate Characters (novel) 1970
The Western Coast (novel) 1972
The Slave Dancer (young adult novel) 1973
The Widow's Children (novel) 1976
A Servant's Tale (novel) 1976
The Little Swineherd and Other Tales (juvenilia)...

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Criticism

Nicholas J. Loprete, Jr. (review date 1 April 1967)

SOURCE: A review of Poor George, in Bestsellers, Vol. 27, No. 1, April 1, 1967, p. 5.

[In the following review, Loprete offers a negative assessment of Poor George.]

George Mecklin, the hero (or anti-hero, if you prefer) of this slim and over-priced first novel [Poor George], is a teacher in a private school in Manhattan to which he commutes by train from his rented Westchester cottage. George is married to Emma, a part-time librarian at Columbia. Immediately the reader suspects that here is another academic novel dealing with the inner workings of the teacher's world. But the reader is wrong. George Mecklin the man engages Miss Fox's attention, not...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Polly Goodwin (review date 8 October 1967)

SOURCE: A review of How Many Miles to Babylon?, in Washington Post Book World, October 8, 1967, p. 24.

[In the following review, Goodwin praises the uncanny realism in How Many Miles to Babylon? but expresses reservations about the book's appropriateness for young readers.]

Paula Fox has demonstrated an almost uncanny insight into young boys in two earlier stories, Maurice's Room and A Likely Place. Now, with equal skill [in How Many Miles to Babylon?], she takes a highly imaginative, lonely Negro boy of "barely 10" through a nightmarish day. James knows what is real—that his father is gone and he is living in a small, shabby room...

(The entire section is 355 words.)

Times Literary Supplement (review date 16 October 1969)

SOURCE: "Doing Their Own Thing," in Times Literary Supplement, October 16, 1969, p. 1198.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic praises The Stone-Faced Boy but recommends it for mature readers.]

… Gus, the hero of The Stone-Faced Boy, is something of a lone wolf, although he is the middle child of a family of five. As a protection against the teasing of other children, he has learnt never to show his emotions. Now he finds he is unable to do so, even when he wants to, and this worries him. He develops a habit of feeling his face to see if he is smiling. "Pretty soon he would have to start carrying around signs—signs that read: laughter;...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Peter S. Prescott (review date 25 September 1972)

SOURCE: "Taken in Hand," in Newsweek, Vol. LXXX, No. 13, September 25, 1972, pp. 25-26.

[In the following review, Prescott finds The Western Coast stylistically interesting but its plot and purpose unclear.]

Other fiction writers will appreciate the formidable technical hurdles that Paula Fox set for herself in this, her third and most ambitious novel [The Western Coast]. There is almost no plot, for one thing, no story line strong enough to sustain suspense or even to indicate an inexorable direction; the novel instead consists of a series of events, some quite dramatic, which involve a large but continually changing group of characters. For another, the...

(The entire section is 640 words.)

Carolyn Riley (review date 1 October 1972)

SOURCE: Review of The Western Coast, in Best Sellers, Vol. 32, No. 13, October 1, 1972, pp. 296-97.

[In the following review, Riley compares Fox to contemporary writers such as Joan Didion and Grace Paley but asserts that Fox is ultimately worthy of praise for her own literary achievements, notably because of her work in novels like The Western Coast.]

Reading The Western Coast, one is reminded of the sociopsychological sensibility of Joan Didion or Grace Paley and one sees in the prose the fine sure hand of Doris Lessing. But Paula Fox has that pure talent for fiction which, though it suggests other excellent writers at every turning, emerges complete in...

(The entire section is 621 words.)

Peter S. Prescott (review date 27 September 1976)

SOURCE: "Distress Signals," in Newsweek, Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 13, September 27, 1976, pp. 100, 102.

[In the following review, Prescott praises the artistry of Fox's novels but finds them too deliberately difficult to be enjoyed by readers.]

Paula Fox is so good a novelist that one wants to go out in the street to hustle up big audience for her.

"Here. Read this novel. Please."

"Is it any good?"

"First rate."

"Will I like it?"

"Not a chance. It's for admiring, not liking."

"Oh. Well, I like to like a book."

...

(The entire section is 624 words.)

Edith Milton (review date 15 January 1977)

SOURCE: "Books Considered," in New Republic, Vol. 176, No. 3, January 15, 1977, pp. 27-28.

[In the following review, Milton finds The Widow's Children to be a brilliant and accurate portrayal of the suffocating nature of contemporary life.]

Years ago, I heard Elizabeth Bowen give a lecture on the difficulties of writing a novel. Describing the Retreat from Moscow, she inferred, was nothing compared to getting people to move from one room to another: why were they moving? how much should one go into why and how? I seem to recall her saying that Virginia Woolf, having once spent three months separating her characters from their boeuf en daube, was stuck...

(The entire section is 1647 words.)

Bruce Bassoff (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Royalty in a Rainy Country: Two Novels of Paula Fox," in Critique, Vol. XX, No. 2, 1978, pp. 33-48.

[In the following essay, Bassoff discusses issues of deformation and paralysis in Desperate Characters and The Widow's Children.]

At the end of Plato's Phaedrus, the urban man, Socrates, delivers a beautiful pastoral prayer that includes the request: "May the outward and inward man be as one." Having shown that both erotics and rhetoric are arts of acting on somebody when you have full knowledge and the other does not, Socrates asserts a new kind of erotics—of the living word of face to face dialogue—and prays for that word's adherence to what...

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John Rowe Townsend (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Paula Fox," in A Sounding of Storytellers: New and Revised Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children, J. B. Lippincott, 1979, pp. 55-65.

[In the following essay, Townsend provides an overview of Fox's works for children.]

Of the new writers for children who emerged in the United States in the later 1960s, Paula Fox was quickly seen to be one of the most able. Her books were unusually varied; each had a distinct individual character, but at the same time each was stamped with her own imprint. And they had an air of newness: not merely the literal contemporaneity which almost anyone can achieve but the newness that comes from looking at things with new eyes,...

(The entire section is 3867 words.)

Anne Tyler (review date 9 November 1980)

SOURCE: "Staking Out Her Territory," in New York Times Book Review, November 9, 1980, p. 55.

[In the following review, Tyler praises Fox's realistic handling of teenage problems in A Place Apart.]

I know a teen-age girl who seems to spend most of her library time opening books, reading their end flaps and slamming them shut. "Fourteen-year-old Mary and her alcoholic mother…." Slam. "When fifteen-year-old Laura learns she's pregnant…." Slam. What she wants, she says, is a book about somebody ordinary. It could be somebody with a problem, if necessary, but does the problem have to be the most important part of the book?

The 13-year-old narrator of...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Paula Fox (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Some Thoughts on Imagination in Children's Literature," in Celebrating Children's Books: Essay on Children's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland, edited by Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye, Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1981, pp. 24-34.

[In the following essay, Fox reflects on the ability of books to fuel the imagination, especially of children.]

Literature is the province of imagination, and stories, in whatever guise, are meditations on life.

Goethe wrote that supreme imagining is the effort to grasp truth through imagination. It does not consist in making things different but in trying to discover them as they are.

...

(The entire section is 2936 words.)

Hamida Bosmajian (essay date Winter 1983)

SOURCE: "Nightmares of History—The Outer Limits of Children's Literature," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 4, Winter 1983, pp. 20-22.

[In the following essay, Bosmajian discusses the "historical nightmares" of slavery, the Holocaust, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as depicted in children's books, including Fox's The Slave Dancer.]

In the last two decades the ironic mode—the depiction of the human condition as limited by realistic historical time and space—has made definite encroachments on children's literature, particularly in stories about familial or social trauma. Though reviewers often question if works about child abuse,...

(The entire section is 2824 words.)

Lois R. Kuznets (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: "The Fresh-Air Kids, or Some Contemporary Versions of Pastoral," in Children's Literature, Vol. 11, Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 156-68.

[In the following essay, Kuznets examines the use of the pastoral fantasy in children's literature—particularly Fox's How Many Miles to Babylon?—as a rite of passage for young protagonists.]

Pastoral literature traditionally demonstrates the human need for the healing powers of the simple, rural, or rustic life, by contrasting that life with the complex, urban, or urbane one. Such traditional pastoral needs and contrasts can be seen not only in adult literature but also in children's literature, including...

(The entire section is 4622 words.)

Blair T. Birmelin (review date 3 November 1984)

SOURCE: "Novel Conditions," in The Nation, Vol. 239, No. 14, November 3, 1984, pp. 459-60.

[In the following review, Birmelin praises Fox's ability in A Servant's Tale to render the perspective of social powerlessness but finds her choice of narrative style too opaque.]

Nadine Gordimer has described black South African playwrights as being concerned not with the development of actions but with the representation of conditions. In her latest novel, A Servant's Tale, Paula Fox, who is one of our most intelligent (and least appreciated) contemporary novelists, clearly has represented conditions. Fox's earlier novel The Widow's Children, about several...

(The entire section is 1041 words.)

Anne Tyler (review date 11 November 1984)

SOURCE: "Trying to Be Perfect," in New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1984, p. 48.

[In the following review, Tyler calls One-Eyed Cat a "book of real value" because of its honest portrayal of the parent-child dynamic.]

In Paula Fox's 20-odd years of writing for children, she has distinguished herself as a teller of mingled tales. Let other authors underestimate their young readers' intelligence however they will, creating entirely villainous villains and entirely heroic heroes—but Miss Fox trusts that even children know life is a complex, inconclusive, intriguingly gray-toned affair.

One-Eyed Cat is a story about an introspective...

(The entire section is 766 words.)

Paula Giddings (review date 18 November 1984)

SOURCE: A review of A Servant's Tale, in New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1984, p. 9.

[In the following review, Giddings asserts that while A Servant's Tale begins with a well-developed sense of purpose and character, the novel loses focus when Fox moves her characters to an urban setting.]

Luisa, the heroine in Paula Fox's fifth novel. A Servant's Tale, is born, out of wedlock, to a father who comes from a wealthy, plantation-owning family, the de la Cuevas. Her mother, whose family was reduced to peonage by the de la Cuevas, works as a kitchen servant in their vivienda, or "big house." Luisa, however, escapes the fate common to...

(The entire section is 1239 words.)

Linda Simon (review date 11 January 1985)

SOURCE: "Valet Girl," in Commonweal, Vol. XCII, No. 1, January 11, 1985, pp. 22, 24.

[In the following review, Simon finds in A Servant's Tale a deftly handled examination of the individual power and purpose of the marginalized under-classes.]

Servants know their masters' secrets. From their posts upstairs, downstairs, backstairs, they have a privileged view of the privileged classes. Anonymous, invisible, flies on the wall and the pitcher's ears, they are able to observe a reality closed to the rest of us: private vanities and foibles, hidden trials and unspoken troubles. As a literary device, the perceptive servant is a useful character in the hands of a...

(The entire section is 1039 words.)

Darryl Pinckney (review date 27 June 1985)

SOURCE: "A Not-So-Simple Heart," in New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXII, No. 11, June 27, 1985, pp. 27-29.

[In the following review, Pinckney finds A Servant's Tale to be an examination of the subversion of expected values and actions by an outsider to the dominant culture.]

The freakishness of innocence gives the pessimism of Paula Fox's domestic plots an unexpected ambiguity. Poor George (1967) is the story of a schoolteacher who brings about the collapse of his marriage by taking a sullen youth under his wing. Desperate Characters (1970) depicts a childless, middle-aged couple fending off the destabilization strategies of friends and strangers....

(The entire section is 3913 words.)

Anita Moss (essay date Fall 1985)

SOURCE: "Varieties of Children's Metafiction," in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Fall 1985, pp. 79-92.

[In the following essay, Moss includes How Many Miles to Babylon? in a discussion of the effectiveness of self-referential qualities in children's fiction.]

"It's because she wants it told," he thought, "so that people whom she will never see and whose names she will never hear and who have never heard her name nor seen her face will read it and know at last why God let us lose the War: that only through the blood of our men and the tears of our women could He stay this demon and efface his name and lineage from the...

(The entire section is 6190 words.)

Judith Sheriff (review date August-October 1986)

SOURCE: A review of The Moonlight Man, in VOYA, August-October 1986, p. 142.

[In the following review, Sheriff praises Fox's handling of her characters' ambiguous feelings for each other in The Moonlight Man.]

[In The Moonlight Man], twelve years after her parents' divorce, 15-year-old Catherine Ames has the opportunity for a seven-week visit with her father, with whom she has had only brief visits since the divorce. Her 50-year-old father, however, is three weeks late picking her up at her Montreal boarding school. Finally, just as both Catherine and the headmistress agree that Catherine's mother must be contacted, her father calls, full of apologies,...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Sarah Hayes (review date 28 November 1986)

SOURCE: "Breaking the Rules," in Times Literary Supplement, November 28, 1986, p. 1344.

[In the following review, Hayes applauds Fox's break with conventional teen-novel themes in The Moonlight Man, noting the complexity of emotion and mild didacticism of the novel.]

Catherine's father is late picking her up from boarding school—three weeks late. And instead of spending the summer in Rockport, as she had expected, he takes her to an odd little house in Nova Scotia at the back end of nowhere. Catherine knew her father would turn up eventually. She knew he would charm and entertain her in unexpected ways. She knew she would be disarmed. She did not know that her...

(The entire section is 544 words.)

New York Times Book Review (review date 10 December 1986)

SOURCE: A review of The Little Swineherd and Other Tales, in New York Times Book Review, December 10, 1986, p. 86.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic finds The Little Swineherd and Other Tales "luminous" and comic but also appropriately sober.]

To open a children's book by Paula Fox is to be in the hands of a master storyteller. Rarely do writers bring such luminous prose to the old-fashioned "tale," and Miss Fox's characters, whether they be animal or human, are affecting. Best of all, she has the kind of humor that plays over words as sunlight plays on water. She is funny, witty and urbane, and a joy to read.

The teller of...

(The entire section is 328 words.)

Diane Manuel (review date 2 October 1987)

SOURCE: "Adventures to Remember," in Christian Science Monitor, October 2, 1987, p. B4.

[In the following review, Manuel writes that Lily and the Lost Boy is "a coming-of-age story that will be remembered both for its emotional impact and for the sensory impressions that linger long after the last page is turned."]

Quick now—what was your favorite book as a child, and why? Did you love Winnie the Pooh for the sharing it taught—or because you never tired of visualizing Pooh Bear pretending to be a small black rain cloud, with all those bothersome bees buzzing about?

Did you read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew under...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

Penny Blubaugh (review date February 1988)

SOURCE: A review of Lily and the Lost Boy, in VOYA, Vol. 10, No. 6, February 1988, pp. 279-80.

[In the following review, Blubaugh admires Fox's portrayal of village life and of complicated emotional themes in Lily and the Lost Boy.]

[In Lily and the Lost Boy], Lily, 12, and her 14 year old brother Paul are living on the small Greek island of Thasos where their father has taken the family with him while he's on sabbatical from his teaching job in Massachusetts. He's picked Thasos as a temporary home because not many English-speaking tourists visit and he's determined to learn as much about Greece and the Greeks as he can first hand.

Both...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Ellen Fader (review date September-October 1991)

SOURCE: A review of Monkey Island, in Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LXVII, No. 5, September-October 1991, pp. 596-97.

[In the following review, Fader praises Fox's deft handling of serious social issues in Monkey Island.]

[In Monkey Island], eleven-year-old Clay Garrity awakens in the welfare hotel where he and his pregnant mother have lived for the last month to find his mother gone. His search for her leads him to a nearby park, where he becomes part of an encampment of homeless people, but a bout with pneumonia brings Clay's situation to the attention of the social service agencies, which place him with a foster family while they continue the quest for his...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Dinitia Smith (review date 10 November 1991)

SOURCE: "No Place to Call Home," in New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1991, p. 52.

[In the following review, Smith assesses Monkey Island as an honest portrayal of homelessness, particularly the rarely dealt with issue of homelessness as it affects members of the middle class.]

One autumn morning 13-year-old Clay Garrity wakes up in a welfare hotel in Manhattan and discovers that his mother has left him. Clay's father, who has also disappeared, is an unemployed magazine art director. His mother, until recently, had a job working with computers. Clay is white, he has been to good schools (he can read Robinson Crusoe)—an atypical homeless child. He...

(The entire section is 567 words.)

Connie C. Rockman (review date July 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Amzat and His Brothers: Three Italian Tales Remembered by Floriano Vecchi by Paula Fox, in School Library Journal, Vol. 39, No. 7, July 1993, pp. 90-91.

[In the following review, Rockman finds Amzat and His Brothers: Three Italian Tales Remembered by Floriano Vecchi too realistic and disturbing for children.]

Fox retells three Italian folk-tales that were told to her by a friend who heard them from his grandfather when he was a child growing up in a pre-World War II Italian village. The tales are variations of familiar stories: "Mezgalten," for example, contains elements of "The Brementown Musicians" and "The Wolf and the Kids." Acts...

(The entire section is 232 words.)

Horn Book Magazine (review date July-August 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Amzat and His Brothers: Three Italian Tales Remembered by Floriano Vecchi by Paula Fox, in Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LXIX, No. 4, July-August 1993, pp. 468-69.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic admires the traditional fairy tale tone and themes of Amzat and His Brothers: Three Italian Tales Remembered by Floriano Vecchi.]

Explaining in her preface how these stories have come down to her "as a kind of unwritten library that is passed from generation to generation," Paula Fox has added her own distinctive voice before sending them on their evolutionary way. In the first tale, clever Amzat and his wife foil his greedy brothers'...

(The entire section is 323 words.)

Betsy Hearne (review date September 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Western Wind, in The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1993, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 9-10.

[In the following review, the critic admires Fox's spare but evocative prose in Western Wind.]

[In Western Wind], eleven-year-old Elizabeth Benedict believes the reason she's being sent to spend August with her grandmother in a primitive Maine island cottage is the newly born brother on whom her parents lavish attention. Paula Fox uses an isolated situation, as she has done before, to delve into a child's deepening awareness—here, of her grandmother's value as a person, a painter, and an elder facing death with dignity....

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Cyrisse Jaffee (review date 10 April 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Western Wind, in New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1994, p. 35.

[In the following review, Jaffee finds Western Wind slightly melodramatic but admires the book's probing of human relationships without offering simplistic solutions.]

[In Western Wind], to her dismay, 11-year-old Elizabeth Benedict has been sent to stay with Gran for a month by her parents, who have just brought home a new baby. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth is resentful and sullen, and the prospect of spending August with her "unpredictable and ungrandmotherly" Gran only adds to her unhappiness.

Gran—Cora Ruth Benedict—a painter whose...

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Paula Fox (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "About Language," in Ohio Review, 1994, pp. 7-19.

[In the following essay, Fox explores the ability of language and stories, at their best, to concretize the ephemeral and ambiguous nature of universal experience and what Fox considers the unfortunate bastardizing of language in contemporary parlance.]

Great stories give us metaphors that flash upon the mind the way lightning flashes upon the earth, illuminating for a instant an entire landscape that had been hidden in the dark.

In some sense all stories are metaphors. There is mystery in the way they make recognizable what we think we have not experienced. Four hundred years ago, Edmund...

(The entire section is 4974 words.)

Roger Sutton (review date March 1995)

SOURCE: A review of The Eagle Kite, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Vol. 48, No. 7, March 1995, pp. 234-35.

[In the following review, Sutton finds The Eagle Kite too ambiguous in its handling of the subject matter.]

When Liam's mother Katherine tells him that his father Philip contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, Liam knows she's lying. He knows from his school sex ed classes that such a risk has become near-impossible, but he also suddenly remembers, "clearer every moment like a photograph negative in a developing tank," the time three years ago when he saw his father secretly embrace a young man on the beach near the family's summer...

(The entire section is 396 words.)

Claudia Morrow (review date April 1995)

SOURCE: A review of The Eagle Kite, in School Library Journal, Vol. 41, No. 4, April 1995, pp. 150, 153.

[In the following review, Morrow praises The Eagle Kite for its honest portrayal of both deeply personal and socially charged contemporary family issues.]

[In The Eagle Kite], Liam, a high school freshman, learns that his father is dying of AIDS. Suddenly, his comfortable family is in pieces, and his father has gone to live in a seashore cottage two hours from the family's city apartment. Distanced from both parents by secrets each of them seems compelled to keep, Liam remembers having seen his father embrace a young man years before—a friend,...

(The entire section is 273 words.)

Nancy Vasilakis (review date September-October 1995)

SOURCE: A review of The Eagle Kite, in Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LXXI, No. 4, September-October 1995, pp. 608-9.

[In the following review, Vasilakis asserts that, although the themes in The Eagle Kite may be difficult for teenagers to absorb, the book is ultimately worth the effort.]

Liam Cormac was ten years old when he saw his father on the beach embracing another man. He has never spoken of the incident and has repressed the memory of it—until now, in his first year of high school, when he learns that his father is dying of AIDS. The family, unable to confront the truth of Philip Cormac's homosexuality, enters a period of denial and individual...

(The entire section is 329 words.)

English Journal (review date November 1996)

SOURCE: A review of The Eagle Kite, in English Journal, Vol. 85, No. 7, November 1996, p. 88.

[In the following review, the anonymous critic finds The Eagle Kite a "haunting exploration of guilt."]

Although The Eagle Kite is probably the shortest and easiest of the Honor Books to read, its haunting exploration of guilt may make it one of the most complex. First, is the guilt that thirteen-year-old Liam feels for hating his parents. He hates his mother for lying to him about how his father got AIDS. She said it was from a blood transfusion his father had during an appendicitis operation, but Liam knows from sex education class that blood...

(The entire section is 578 words.)