Barbara Wersba Alice Digilio - Essay

Alice Digilio

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Humor in the young adult novel is often overdone, applied in great dollops suited to the taste of 10-year-olds. Not so [in The Carnival in My Mind]. Barbara Wersba's new comic novel is the literary equivalent of a New Yorker cartoon….

Wersba, also a playwright, has a knack for setting her scenes, and delivering the punch lines in a manner worthy of Woody Allen….

Beneath the comedy—the antics of the setters, Harvey's efforts to stretch his tiny frame, the formality of Holmes the butler amidst the craziness and chaos of the Beaumont apartment—is a poignant strain. Harvey feels unloved…. Clearly, his attraction to Chandler grows out of this need for a bit of mothering (as well as the glamor attached to taking tall beauties to tea at the St. Regis at his tender age). And Chandler, on her part, is a frustrated mother. The illegitimate daughter she once bore has been taken from her and lives with her family in Michigan.

All the relationships in the novel, eccentric as they are, make sense. Something grows out of them, and most important, Harvey grows up—begins to understand his mother, his remote father, Chandler, and himself. All of which makes a very satisfying novel for the reader of any age.

Alice Digilio, in a review of "The Carnival in My Mind," in Book World—The Washington Post, August 8, 1982, p. 6.