Brown lived through the ordeal of early adolescence because he was tough, intelligent and lucky. He cut loose from his parents, came of age in the school prisons where he was fortunate enough to find a few white supervisors who could give him a reason for living. At 17 he had passed the crisis. The move from his home, he says, 'was a move away from fear, toward challenges, towards the positive anger that I think every young man should have'.
[In Manchild in the Promised Land] Brown tells his story in the guise of the delinquent who simply reports in the scatological argot of the slums what he said and saw and did. Occasionally, the voice of the mature Brown interpolates. The narrative is meandering and repetitive, its course matching that of the wild boys and girls whose misadventures finally blur into common disaster. Inviting comparison with the work of James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, this isn't the 'magnificent' and 'tremendous' book it has been declared to be by some American reviewers. Neither can it be dismissed, in the phrase of an irritated Negro critic, as a piece of 'social science fiction' that dramatises the stereotypes of urban sociology. Brown may have touched up the colours of his Harlem nightmare, but like the anti-pastoral autobiographies of Richard Wright and Edward Dahlberg, it sounds authentic and may stand as an honest record of one American life.
Daniel Aaron, "Out of the Closet," in New Statesman, Vol. 72, No. 1847, August 5, 1966, p. 204.