Barbara Corcoran Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Barbara Corcoran 1911–

(Has also written under the names Paige Dixon and Gail Hamilton) American young adult novelist, nonfiction writer, short story writer, playwright, and journalist.

Whether mystery, historical novel, or contemporary story, all of Corcoran's works of fiction for young people share the same theme: the coming-of-age of their adolescent protagonists. Each teenage character confronts a complex situation or issue which tests his or her beliefs or stamina, and from which he or she learns, grows, and matures. Often the learning experience comes through an adventure, or, as in The Long Journey, a physical ordeal.

Corcoran has been praised for the freshness and relevance of her plots, which are often drawn from current events, and for her perceptive, unusual characterizations of searching young adults. Many of her female protagonists are handicapped in some way, either physically or emotionally: for instance, Margaret, in A Dance to Still Music, learns to live with her deafness. Sometimes their development has been impeded by parents who have deserted the family, or been institutionalized, or have impressed misanthropic views of society on their children. Corcoran's male characters confront similar tests of attitude, often connected with the raising of personal and social consciousness. Perhaps Corcoran's best-developed male protagonist is Jordan Phillips in May I Cross Your Golden River? who is faced with the inevitability of his own death. As Jordan passes through disbelief to anger and final acceptance, Corcoran presents his story sympathetically and realistically.

Corcoran's nonfiction has been commended for its accuracy and informativeness, and for its strong concern with the issue of animal welfare. Corcoran often interweaves straight reportage with fiction in her young adult novels. However, she has sometimes been charged with handling her animals and their situations in these works with more finesse than her people. It has also been said that she overuses stereotypes and caricatures, especially for her adult characters, that her plots too often veer towards melodrama, and that her endings are unrealistic. Critics also wonder if the topicality of Corcoran's works will limit their future readership. There is general agreement, however, that Corcoran's varied works for young people have set a high standard, and that the positive values she expresses are reassuring to her adolescent readers, helping them to face their fears and accept themselves while they enjoy her perceptive, interesting stories. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 3.)