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Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Wells Essay - Critical Essays

Wells, Rosemary

Introduction

Rosemary Wells

American young adult novelist and children's book author/illustrator. Creating novels for young adult readers and picture books for children, and winning awards for both, Wells is a popular and versatile juvenile author. She writes and illustrates her picture books, which are generally lighthearted treatments of a child's growing experiences. Wells has written three young adult novels to date, The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet, None of the Above, and a mystery novel, Leave Well Enough Alone. All the novels deal with ethical dilemmas of adolescence, presenting difficult moral solutions with honesty and humor.

Alice Miller

[The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet is] fast-paced, adequately written entertainment…. Although the characters … are stereotyped and one minor character never develops as expected, Wells does successfully portray the beginnings of puberty and an adolescent's need for privacy. Rachel's obsession about getting her period, counting her public hairs … and examining her chest for signs of developing breasts are related with humor and understanding. (p. 89)

Alice Miller, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1972 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1972), May 1972.

Jane Langton

[The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet] is the secret journal of Rachel Sasakian, scribbled after lights out while she crouches in a bathtub at boarding school….

Driven into a corner by the dumb rules of the school, she becomes crafty. Her father, she brags, is Norman Mailer. To escape compulsory chapel she declares herself a convert to Judaism. But the totalitarian pressure of the school mounts until Rachel's resistance is an act of heroism. The book says something true about life: Evil is not diabolical and nasty, but bland and blind. (p. 5)

Jane Langton, in Book World—Chicago Tribune (© 1972 Postrib Corp.), May 7, 1972.

To start with, Rachel's snobbish working-class mother, who saves and borrows to send Rachel to a $4,000-a-year high school with "nice girls from nice families," is just unreal. She's a type rather than an individual but she isn't true to any type, and Ms. Wells' unsympathetic treatment of her [in The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet] indicates a little snobbery on her own part…. The initial picture of the rigid, repressive school gives a similar impression of garbled sociology, even to the expensive, out-of-season asparagus served at dinner. Once we're into the story, though, certain recognizable absurdities are given properly incidental notice …, and the quirky humor that has always been evident in Ms. Wells' pictures assumes some happy verbal manifestations here. And Rachel herself, a reluctant nonconformist who hates the school because it allows her no time to practice piano or just be alone, is quietly convincing all along. When she accidentally becomes involved with a disturbed older girl who runs away to the Village, the plot focuses on a real dilemma: should Rachel tell where Carlisle has gone, as authorities tell her the girl is self-destructive and needs help, or keep her vow of silence because Carlisle has a right to lead her own life and neither the school nor her parents are likely to do her any good if they do find her? In the end Rachel is not sure she has made the right choice but fortunately the trouble has brought her parents to their senses and they withdraw her from the school. The story too grows up as it goes along. (p. 581)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1972 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), May 15, 1972.

Jean F. Mercier

Ms. Wells writes with uncompromising honesty; the feelings of all characters [in "None of the Above"] are believably expressed and the plot concerns a vital area—the pitiful state of education in our public schools. The trouble with the story is that all its people are so unsavory. That goes double for the "heroine," a dolt who is more irritating than sympathetic. Her stepmother, a snob and a pseudointellectual, wants Marcia out of the dullard class in high school and into the college-prep group with her bright daughter, Chrissie. Marcia, though she's more interested in gaudy sweaters and french fries and in daydreams of sexual exploits, finds she can fake it and make it in the advanced courses until the day when she's required to think instead of cram her head with facts. At the story's end, she has opted for a sordid future instead of college, but who cares? (p. 58)

Jean F. Mercier, in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the August 5, 1974, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1974 by Xerox Corporation), August 5, 1974.

Joni Bodart

When her father remarries, doltish Marcia … finds herself out of place with her sophisticated stepmother and her whiz-kid stepsister Chris. In the five years that [None of the Above] spans, Marcia becomes more acceptable to her new family … but in so doing seems to lose herself…. Wells refuses to provide any "happily ever after" solution to Marcia's problems. An unusual and oddly affecting heroine, Marcia seems, at times, to be sleepwalking through the events of her life. The author skillfully captures the girl's confusion in this timely, realistic and moving novel…. (p. 69)

Joni Bodart, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1974 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1974), November, 1974.

Dale Carlson

"None of the Above" is a sensitive novel of teen-age problems, the search for identity in a confusing world, the alien feeling within the context of an alien family, the discovery of answers to essentially unanswerable problems.

"None of the Above" is well-written and the characters well-conceived. I'm not sure about the ending—sentimentally, but I don't think realistically, conceived. (p. 8)

Dale Carlson, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 24, 1974.

Sister Mary Columba, P.B.V.M.

Marcia Mill discovers new pressures, new adjustments, new problems in her life after her father remarries. Her brilliant stepsister brings competition, so she tries to attain a higher academic standing. Her sister, Sharon, whose husband has been in Vietnam for over a year, becomes pregnant, but doesn't want her husband to know. Her father arranges for an abortion….

The first part of [None of the Above] is an interesting story of family situations and events with a stepmother and her daughter trying to become part of this family. The stepmother counsels Marcia about getting "caught" as her sister did. Marcia promises to be virtuous.

The latter half is disgusting as it...

(The entire section is 196 words.)

Margery Fisher

The boarding-school world depicted in The fog comes on little pig feet, though not quite St. Trinian's, would probably be taken as a satirical picture if the story were set in England; as it is, I cannot be sure whether the author has exaggerated the oppression and emotional aridity of North Place and, if so, whether this is because of her own experience of school or to give bite to her story. At any rate it has acquired enough bite through first person narration. The naïve, emotional words of the narrator, Rachel, whose battle against the school is also a battle against her parents, make Carlisle Daggett's misguided neurotic fight against authority seem all the more tragic because the author herself does not...

(The entire section is 192 words.)

Rosamond Faith

The theme [of The Fog Comes On Little Pig Feet] inevitably recalls Salinger; the disastrous first week at a posh boarding school of Rachel, fierce, funny and working-class, sent there by her sad and anxious parents to meet "nice girls from nice families"…. There isn't much of a plot; loyalty to a run-away delinquent friend, to her own scale of values, to those worried parents; these provide conflict enough.

The book is tougher and more sophisticated than any English equivalent I know, and certainly more literate: a friendship is sealed by a Carl Sandburg misquotation and the tone throughout is urbane. There are quite a few Americanisms (public school, Kotex, etc), which could well have been...

(The entire section is 188 words.)

Jane Abramson

[In Leave Well Enough Alone] Dorothy is … left on her own to decide the most moral course of action. Although the mystery is contrived and confusing at times with too many false or oblique clues, the characterizations are superb, especially Dorothy's "martyred" older sister who, at 20, is saddled with a baby and bunions; and, of course, Dorothy, herself, caught squarely between her Catholic conscience and ambitious nature. Wells' finest novel yet, this raises thorny ethical questions and discusses them compellingly and with great humor. (p. 73)

Jane Abramson, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1977 issue of School Library Journal, published...

(The entire section is 111 words.)

Katherine Paterson

I began [Leave Well Enough Alone] laughting with delight at Rosemary Wells's marvelous re-creation of fourteenness—the fervid rejoicing over a mistake not made, the strain of drinking a Coke noiselessly in the presence of an adult one is struggling to impress, furtively removing and disposing of one's ruined stockings, only to have them returned by a smiling porter. And for those of us who grew up pious in the '40s and '50s there is that ever losing battle for goodness—the feverish yielding to the very temptation one has seconds before praised God for the power to overcome.

I began the book laughing. I ended it in goosebumps. In between I had gobbled up red herrings like gum drops.

...

(The entire section is 190 words.)

Susan Terris

Not since Dorothy was whisked off to Oz have I encountered a Dorothy as impressionable and thoroughly sympathetic as the heroine of Rosemary Wells's "Leave Well Enough Alone." In this novel, set in 1956, Dorothy, almost 15, a policeman's daughter and student at the Sacred Heart School in Newburgh, N.Y., finds herself transported to Llewellyn, Pa. where, for the magnificent sum of $400, she is to spend the summer taking care of two beastly little girls.

At first blink, Maria and John Hoade's Llewellyn estate with its pastoral beauty and fabulous parties seems like an Emerald City to Dorothy Coughlin; but as the green glasses begin to slip down her nose she realizes that the place reeks of menace,...

(The entire section is 305 words.)

Zena Sutherland

The characterization [in Leave Well Enough Alone] is strong and the dialogue natural; the story is overcrowded however, with the mystery and suspense of the adult coffin, with Dorothy's adjustment to a job and a situation for which she is equally ill-prepared, and with the dominating theme of her struggles with her conscience and her reiterated but abortive promises to herself and to God that she will stop lying and meddling. (p. 40)

Zena Sutherland, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1977 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), October, 1977.

(The entire section is 91 words.)