Sandra Scoppettone Essay - Critical Essays

Scoppettone, Sandra

Introduction

Sandra Scoppettone 1936–

American novelist, playwright, and scriptwriter.

Scoppettone is known to most young adults as the author of realistic and unsentimental novels on serious social problems. In Trying Hard to Hear You, she addresses the subject of homosexuality; teenage alcoholism is the focus of The Late Great Me.

Her next two novels, Happy Endings Are All Alike and Such Nice People, are generally considered controversial for their graphic violence. Happy Endings confronts the subjects of rape and lesbianism; Such Nice People tells the story of a middle-class teenage boy who plans and carries out the slaughter of his family. The pervasive message of Scoppettone's recent book, Long Time between Kisses, is that difficult and painful introspection is necessary for self-discovery.

While some critics contend that Scoppettone's novels are unnecessarily violent and erotic, her defenders feel that she has provided young readers with subjects which reflect their concerns.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed. and Something about the Author, Vol. 9)

Kirkus Reviews

No doubt Camilla Crawford's "terrifically" trendy, affectedly blase monologue [in Trying Hard to Hear You] is intentionally slanted to reveal a certain cliquish pseudo-sophistication. Still, these Long Island teen-agers, whose lives revolve around a little theater production of Anything Goes, may turn readers off long before Cam's problems with her buddy Jeff and new boyfriend Phil coalesce around the discovery that the two boys are homosexual lovers. Despite the group's much-flaunted worldliness, the revelation proves shattering and leads to the boys' persecution by cruel teasing, an attempted tar and feathering, and eventually the death in an auto accident of Phil and the girl who had offered to help him "prove" himself. Though the tragic outcome may seem overblown, it is logical in the context of the group's well-established pattern of self-dramatization and acting out. The message about homosexuality is well handled both factually … and in terms of kids' emotional reactions, which in Camilla's case don't keep pace with her growing intellectual acceptance of the situation. One can't help suspecting that other areas of Cam's snobbish immaturity … are being exploited. But for all the soap-operations, the approach to homosexuality is honest and substantial enough to justify the discussion it will no doubt generate.

A review of "Trying Hard to Hear You," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1974 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLII, No. 20, October 15, 1974, p. 1110.

The Booklist

[Trying Hard to Hear You focuses on the summer of '73, which for] narrator Camilla Crawford, a 16-year-old aspiring actress, revolves around the Youth On Stage production in which her whole crowd participates…. During the course of rehearsals Cam falls for Phil Chrystie, who seems to reciprocate her feelings but puzzles her by his inordinate interest in her best friend Jeff Grathwohl. When Phil and Jeff are caught kissing during a Fourth of July party everyone turns on them making them a continuing butt of cruel jokes…. Jeff is able to cope, but the pressure overwhelms Phil, who is baited into dating a girl, drinks too much, and is killed with her in an automobile crash. In trying to comfort Jeff, Cam comes to realize what has been done to the boys, while she and most of her friends gain an understanding and greater acceptance of homosexuality. Plot threads are credibly interwoven, adult as well as teenage characters are well developed and interrelated, dialog is natural, and the author's thesis is skillfully though obviously projected in a teenage story of unusual depth for mature readers.

A review of "Trying Hard to Hear You," in The Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1974 by the American Library Association), Vol. 71, No. 6, November 15, 1974, p. 340.

Alice Bach

[Trying Hard to Hear You] is one of this year's most affecting novels…. Without a trace of moralizing and never skirting the issue, Sandra Scoppettone has examined the underlying bitterness and prejudice even supposedly "hip" teenagers have toward homosexual activity. (pp. 51-2)

Alice Bach, in her review of "Trying Hard to Hear You" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1974), in The Village Voice, Vol. XIX, No. 50, December 16, 1974, pp. 51-2.

Annie Gottlieb

[In "Trying Hard to Hear You"], Scoppettone has taken an inherently condescending form and pumped it full of "nature" content; the result is a little like reading "Double Date" in post-hippie costume and language (words like "masturbate" and "vomit" are bravely in place), with the obligatory moral punchline adjusted to 70's liberal pieties: not "save your virginity for marriage," but "as long as you don't hurt anyone else, you have a right to be whatever you want to be."…

The story tells what Camilla and her crowd go through when they discover that Camilla's best friend Jeff and her crush, Phil, love each other and are lovers. They react, predictably, with bewilderment, fear, disgust and, in some cases, violence; the confrontation between the gentle sincerity of the lovers and the tittering shock of the "straights" is, while a bit of a set piece, the most emotionally genuine and moving thing in the book….

[The] whole hygienic list is here: homosexuality, death, alcohol, women's liberation—all set rakishly askew in the old strawberry-soda format, and in the bright relentless voice of a grownup pretending to be a precocious kid. I am probably being too harsh, because this book could be educational, provided its young readers are naive enough about writing not to hear the screaming clash between the medium and the message.

Annie Gottlieb, in her review of "Trying Hard to Hear You," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 12, 1975, p. 8.

Alleen Pace Nilsen

Trying Hard to Hear You is a fourth book to put on the shelves next to [Lynn Hall's Sticks and Stones, Isabelle Holland's Man Without a Face, and John Donovan's I'll Get There It Better Be Worth the Trip]. These are all books touching on the subject of homosexuality. In some ways Trying Hard is similar. For example, the people involved in the homosexual relationship are both males, and again there is a tragedy (death) at the end of the book. But it's also different in that both boys had both parents, so there's no implication that being a homosexual relates to coming from an incomplete family as in the other three books. Another difference is that the boys, who are the same age, are actually homosexual. Although it's done with taste, the author doesn't stop short to leave readers wondering; there is an open discussion of the homosexuality. The story is told through the eyes of Camilla Crawford, a high school junior…. Her mother is a psychologist, so, luckily, at Camilla's invitations, she can occasionally interject little comments and observations which have the ring of authority. (pp. 81-2)

Just as in Sticks and Stones, the tragedy [in Trying Hard to Hear You] was not so much the homosexuality as it was people's reaction to it. And it was refreshing that the author made it clear that the other boy is "alive and well," and off to college:

… he wrote to me that he's met someone he likes a lot. He says that the boy, Richard, will never take Phil's place … but then, no one should ever take anyone's place. He thinks they'll have a nice relationship and he's planning to bring him home for Thanksgiving….

                                             (p. 82)

Alleen Pace Nilsen, "Grandly Revolutionary? or Simply Revolting?" (copyright © 1975 by the National Council of Teachers of English; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), in English Journal, Vol. 64, No. 6, September, 1975, pp. 80-3.∗

Publishers Weekly

[The Late Great Me] is centered on a problem rather than on empathetic characters. Geri Peters counts herself among the "freaks" in high school. Her mother keeps urging the girl to make friends with the popular crowd and is overjoyed when Geri announces she has a date. So is Geri, for her squire is handsome Dave Townsend, a new boy who passes up the girls in the "in" crowd. The girl's triumph, however, leads to disaster. For Dave introduces Geri to the world of booze. Before you can say AA, she's nipping from a stashed bottle in her closet at home and another in her school locker. Not scandal, blackouts, hangovers nor even the death of Dave's alcoholic mother slow Geri's compulsive drinking. That takes the...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

The Late Great Me could easily have been published as a "young adult problem novel" … since that's the audience which will primarily listen to the Late Great Me whose name is Geri. She's one of the post-pot teenagers who switched to juice, inadvertently really, after her first date, attractive Dave, introduced her to wine. Before that, alone with her only two friends … she'd been most unpopular with nothing to do except feed her resentment of [her] mother…. In time, she and Dave switch to Scotch and some nondescript sex. Only her teacher Kate Laine, an AA, spots her at once, offers her the help she keeps refusing although she does attend one boring meeting of the ten rules and twelve steps, while she goes...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

KAREN McGINLEY

The Late Great Me is the depressingly impressive story of Geri Peters, one of the half-million teenage alcoholics in this country. Although [Geri] is a fictional character, Ms. Scoppettone acknowledges that much of herself is to be found in her.

This is the story of Geri's descent to the hell of alcoholism after she first tasted wine in her junior year of high school. At fifteen Geri considered herself a freak at Walt Whitman High because she was not a part of any group, "the Straights," "the Jocks," "the Greasers," or the "Juicers," i.e., the drinkers. Then a new student, handsome David Townsend, befriends her and together they join the Juicers. As Geri and Dave sink more deeply into the...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

Publishers Weekly

Scoppettone's "Trying Hard to Hear You" … was a sensitive, well-written novel about young male homosexuals. ["Happy Endings Are All Alike"], though, seems based on ventriloquist's dummies, mouthing the author's unoriginal opinions about sexism, intolerance and what-not. It's a pity that Scoppettone doesn't do justice to a vital subject.

A review of "Happy Endings Are All Alike," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the July 24, 1978 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1978 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 214, No. 4, July 24, 1978, p. 100.

(The entire section is 84 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

Those who consider YA novels according to the handling and breakthrough value of their messages will give [Happy Endings Are All Alike] a high rating for depicting an unambiguous, freely accepted lesbian relationship, with a brutal rape to muster outrage, a moral battle bravely undertaken, and—except perhaps for the police chief—false stereotypes carefully avoided. (Both girls are pretty, had swell mothers, don't "hate men," etc.) What's more, none of it creaks; Scoppettone is a master of smooth, soapy readability. With all that, it's probably too much to ask that the "mature" subject matter be matched with any depth of observation or genuine literary imagination.

A...

(The entire section is 127 words.)

Catholic Library World

[Happy Endings Are All Alike is] a candid novel about a very controversial subject, lesbianism. The author handles the topic delicately, yet, frankly. She does not back down on moral values but faces the issue in such a manner that it could lead to an intelligent, unbiased discussion.

A review of "Happy Endings Are All Alike," in Catholic Library World, Vol. 50, No. 3, October, 1978, p. 117.

(The entire section is 64 words.)

Patty Campbell

Happy Endings Are All Alike deals … with lesbian teen love and is a much stronger political and sexual statement [than Trying Hard to Hear You].

The story is told by one of the participants, not an observer, making explicit scenes of at least foreplay inevitable. The author has also worked in a steamy heterosexual rape scene, so that she can get in the fashionable clichés on that subject, too. It is to Scoppettone's credit as a writer that, in spite of all this propaganda overload, she has created a touching love story with interesting characters and some suspense. And at last, as the title slyly suggests, young adult literature has a novel about homosexuality that does not end with...

(The entire section is 156 words.)

Linda R. Silver

Dimensionless characters, a formless, melodramatic plot, and dialogue that substitutes repetitive jargon for human speech merge [in Happy Endings Are All Alike] to present an encapsulated version of the spectrum of society's attitudes and prejudices toward lesbianism and rape. Jaret's and Peggy's love affair flowers during the summer between high school graduation and college and flounders after Jaret's rape by a deranged boy—a most brutal scene—who has seen the girls making love. While Peggy and Jaret gush, coo, and spat in a manner that embarrasses more than it enlightens, the girls' families and friends serve as convenient exemplars of various attitudes toward lesbianism. The range of prejudices that...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Leonore Gordon

There is virtually no validation for the lesbian teenager, and not only is her right to self-respect opposed by adult institutions, but she is also subject to emotional and/or physical abuse from homophobic peers. Scoppettone deals with such problems, including the rape of one of the protagonists, with depth and sensitivity in Happy Endings…. Her book concerns the lesbian relationship (already in progress) between Jaret and Peggy, upper-middle-class high school seniors in a small eastem town.

The central drama involves the rape of Jaret by her brother's friend Mid, who has secretly happened upon the young women's love-making in the woods. He is apparently psychotic, but he also epitomizes...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Geraldine Deluca

[Happy Endings Are All Alike] is Scoppettone's second work to deal with homosexuality, and it is a far more positive and assertive treatment of the subject than her first. The earlier work, Trying Hard to Hear You, dealt with a furtive, guilt-ridden, male relationship that ended in tragedy. But this work, perhaps buoyed by the women's movement and a more vocal stance on the part of homosexuals in the culture, recognizes that young adult literature must, from time to time, acknowledge homosexuality as more than a passing phase in some adolescents' development. The book depicts the struggles of two young women discovering and affirming their love for each other even when one of them is raped and the rapist...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

[In Such Nice People], Scoppettone wants you to meet the Nash family of Logan, Pa.—a clean-cut, well-fed, all-American clan with seething craziness just beneath the surface. Cole, the father: over-protective of the kids, inhibited, zombie-like, pops Valium, is bitter about giving up a hot affair, dreams of escape. Mother Anne: daughter of an alcoholic, miserable, longing to consummate an affair with nice Jim. Older daughter Kit: normal, a little over-hungry for sex maybe. Younger daughter Sara: fat, compulsive eater, feels deprived of love because of older siblings growing up and away. Likewise younger sons Steven and Max: Steve's a marijuana freak, Max has the occasional violent fit. And then there's...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

Michele M. Leber

[Such Nice People] could have come from page one of the sensational press, and it may be based in fact. But translating it to fiction (with a lurid masturbation-sodomy scene and graphic details of seven murders) seems indefensible unless cause and motivation are explored; and despite smatterings of psychological jargon, a mysterious "chemical break" is the only explanation. Scoppettone's readable enough style and canny handling of adolescent characters are not reasons enough to buy this.

Michele M. Leber, in her review of "Such Nice People," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, April 15, 1980; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company):...

(The entire section is 110 words.)

Kate Waters

Such Nice People covers a five-day period during which 17-year-old Tom, second child and first son of a family who collectively have every problem in vogue in YA literature, carries out instructions from SOLA, a phosphorescent ruler, to kill his family with the exception of older sister Kit who is to be Duchess in the new order…. Kit, a doctoral candidate in psychology, lives away from home but is due to arrive for the holidays. She is in therapy to work through the residue of various love affairs. Sara, a younger sister, is fat. Steven and Max, Tom's young brothers, follow him one evening to a shed and see his solitary sexual writhings that involve his penis and a plunger. They hear him speak to the air in a...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Liz Williams

Long Time Between Kisses is a refreshing and well-written novel that explores the discovery and change inherent in adolescence. Billie James, the story's narrator and protagonist, lives in a loft in New York City's SoHo with her mother … and three cats. In the summer of her sixteenth year, she chops off her boring brown hair and dyes the remainder purple, hoping that this radical physical alteration will substitute for what she considers to be an unremarkable personality. In the course of the novel, however, she and the reader come to recognize her uniqueness…. [Billie] is gifted with the capacity to care for other people. She rescues an old man from starvation and loneliness, cares about her best friend...

(The entire section is 259 words.)

Annie Gottlieb

Sixteen-year-old Billie James, heroine of Sandra Scoppettone's Long Time Between Kisses … has grown up in SoHo and Greenwich Village, and she dodges drug dealers and street crazies with aplomb. Harder to take lightly are her divorced parents: her mother, a failed artist turned carpenter …, and her father, a failed musician who freaks out on angel dust and has to be dragged away in a straitjacket. What can Billie do under the circumstances but cut her hair very short and dye it purple? This precipitates a breakup with her boyfriend, and soon Billie believes she's in love with a mysterious "older man" of 21 about to be confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis.

Weird, huh? Yet this...

(The entire section is 219 words.)

Joseph A. Szuhay

[In A Long Time Between Kisses, the] author presents experiences facing many teen-agers in center city and creates situations that are both funny and sad, illustrating the problems of growing up and maturing during a short time span in the game of life. Attitude modification about the disabled is presented—personal and public attitudes about persons with multiple sclerosis. Sandra Scoppettone did her homework to be able to describe the various feelings and defense mechanisms of disabled individuals as well as many of the misconceptions and myths about them among the general public….

The repeated use of The Mother, The Father, The Organic Woman, etc., was disturbing but should not be a...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Jorja Davis

[In Long Time Between Kisses] Billie James must make some major changes in her life—or go [crazy]…. So—Billie cuts off her hair in a sort of butchered crew-cut, and dyes it purple to "express her self." It's been a long time between kisses for Billie, until Captain Natoli—old, senile, living on dog food, and ignored by family and friends, and Mitch, young, handsome, and suffering from MS, and running away from family and friends come into her life. To both she gives a helping hand and to Mitch she gives her heart. Wit and humor, and finely drawn characters … work together to flesh out this bittersweet identity crisis and first love. Inconsistencies in tense are disturbing, but otherwise a good...

(The entire section is 149 words.)

Barbara J. Craig

As in Scoppettone's other books, excellent writing and lively characterizations grace a heartwarming "it could happen to me" story. [Long Time Between Kisses] tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who misinterprets the confused feelings, self-negation, and rebelliousness common to adolescence as love for a man with multiple sclerosis (who is himself confused and rebellious).

And, as in the author's earlier writings, my only reservation about Long Time Between Kisses lies with the portrayal of Billie, the main character. Her artsy east coast language and habits (such as sipping a daily cappuccino) may diminish the story's realism for some readers.

Billie's...

(The entire section is 163 words.)