Literary Criticism and Significance
A Corner of the Universe by Ann Martin was published in 2002 and won the 2003 Newbery Medal of Honor. It is her second book, the first being another adolescent novel that met with critical success, Belle Teal. A Corner of the Universe is aimed at adolescents, although its themes of mental illness and family problems can be related to at any age. The book was met with positive reviews that praised Martin’s comprehensive and sensitive rendering of a family dealing with mental illness. Although some claimed it was a generic “problem novel,” others felt it went beyond stereotypical problems and relayed the many complicated and layered intricacies of having family members suffer from illness. They felt that Martin conveyed the situation with “tenderness and wisdom” to create a completely “engrossing plot.” The story, which deals frankly with many sensitive issues relating to mentally ill family members, was heralded as an incredibly “important story” that needed to be told and treated with respect.
Hattie and the other characters presented in the book were seen as “wonderfully real,” especially as Hattie navigates her struggles with self-identity and blossoming questions about Adam and his behaviors. Critics felt that “hearts would go out to both Hattie and Adam” as they deal with some very difficult circumstances. The prose is simplistic, elementary, and easy to understand, which will make this a great novel for struggling readers. Martin’s novel focuses not on literary style or elegance but rather on the intricate tangles of human flaws and judgments. As one reviewer noted, “the complexity of this novel lies in the characters’ responses to Adam,” which provides fodder for discussion and enables each reader to relate to their responses at one level or another. Because of this, A Corner of the Universe lends itself well to classroom discussions and in-depth analysis and will find a place in many readers’ hearts.