Barbara Wersba Critical Essays

Introduction

Barbara Wersba 1932–

American novelist, poet, and dramatist.

Although she began as a children's author, Wersba has been writing mainly for young adults since the publication of her novel, The Dream Watcher (1968). This story of a teenager named Albert, who learns to accept his eccentricities despite alienation from his peer group and family, is thematically representative of Wersba's later works. Like Albert, Steve in The Country of the Heart (1975), J. F. in Tunes for a Small Harmonica (1976), and Harvey in The Carnival in My Mind (1982) are all misfit adolescents who gain confidence in their individuality.

In order to become more independent, Wersba's protagonists often reject their parents' values. For example, in Run Softly, Go Fast (1970), Davy leaves home to pursue his idealistic goals. However, like most of Wersba's teenage characters, Davy discovers that even those values which seem outdated, such as the importance of familial relationships, have significance in his life. Because most of her protagonists resolve their identity crises and are better able to understand the point of view of their parents and role models, Wersba has been characterized as an optimistic fiction writer.

Critics are mixed in their response to Wersba's novels. Some find her characters too stereotyped; others consider them well-rounded and believable in their responses to problems that arise in their lives. It has been suggested that her characters' development is strengthened by their struggle with ethical decisions in morally ambiguous situations. Many reviewers argue that her topics of interest to young adults, which include sex, drugs, and counterculture lifestyles, are included only for their sensationalism and add little to the advancement of plot. Critics generally agree, however, that Wersba's dark humor and her accurate portrayals of upper-class lifestyles add much to her fiction.

Wersba has also written Twenty-six Starlings Will Fly Through Your Mind (1980), a poetic ABC reader which has been commended for its sophisticated and melodic verse.

(See also Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)