The Year of the Gopher Essay - Critical Context

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Critical Context

In more than seventy novels for children, young adults, and adults, Gloria Naylor has displayed her gift for creating thought-provoking stories full of wit and comedy. She is well known for excellent writing in a variety of styles and forms and for realistic dialogue and memorable, complex characters with whom young adults can identify. Most of the subjects of Naylor’s novels for young readers are based on incidents in her life. The Year of the Gopher is based on Naylor’s firsthand observations of how parents pressure their children to achieve material wealth. Her former marriage to a mentally ill man inspired the writing of the young adult novel The Keeper (1986). Shiloh (1991), her Newbery Medal-winning novel, was written after Naylor found an abused stray dog. Her enormously popular Alice stories, about a motherless girl, come from Naylor’s diaries and are indicative of her talent for writing comedy. She uses her gift for humorous invention to motivate her readers and to help them handle anxiety and gain deeper insight into problems. For example, in The Year of the Gopher, George is reminded by his father that he must be the best because, out of the four hundred million spermatozoa that raced for the ovum, he is the one who got there first.

Naylor is acclaimed for writing insightful, sensitive, honest stories of young adults confronting problems in contemporary family life. Without sentimentality, her young adult protagonists struggle with such problems as the death of a newborn baby and the questioning of religious beliefs in A String of Changes (1982), the divorce of parents in The Solomon System (1983), the mental illness of a parent in The Keeper, and the death of a parent in The Dark of the Tunnel (1985).