Betty Cavanna Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Betty Cavanna 1909–

(Has also written under the names Betsy Allen and Elizabeth Headley) American young adult novelist, journalist, and author of fiction and nonfiction for younger children. Cavanna has been writing for and about the adolescent girl since 1943. Her books are distinguished by their insight into teenage living and their accurate descriptions of background and setting, and show a keen awareness of the uniqueness of the teen years. Her earlier novels center mainly on all-American girls from small towns as they deal with anxiety, jealousy, and most importantly, love. These books have been criticized for being too simplistic and predictable, and for presenting weak heroines who often have to rely on men. However, several of her books are recognized as classics, especially Going on Sixteen. The changing lifestyle of the American teenager is reflected in Cavanna's novels of the late sixties and early seventies. These novels incorporate more controversial themes, such as mother/daughter rivalry and conflicts between races and cultures, and feature plots built around such contemporary events as kidnapping and drug smuggling. With the exception of Jenny Kimura, these novels were not well received by critics. Most recently Cavanna has been rewriting earlier books into contemporary times and writing original novels set in the past. Cavanna's books have been accused of attracting an undemanding, unsophisticated audience. She has, however, developed a large, loyal following who appreciate her unpretentiousness and can identify with her characters as they face the numerous upheavals involved in growing up. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)