Early Sorrow by Various

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Early Sorrow Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Because each story in this collection addresses familiar human emotion and experience with subtlety, precision, accuracy, and depth, the book does appeal to discerning adult readers. Nevertheless, the points of view, themes, and even prose styles in the collection are particularly well suited for the juvenile to young adult readership that Zolotow has in mind.

Seven of the ten stories are written in the first-person narrative style, which is particularly compelling for the juvenile reader because it more fully engages their empathy for the lead character. It may be no accident that the three stories written in third person—“Nina,” “The Visitor,” and “The Garden Party”—are the least viscerally affecting, the least accessible, to young readers. For example, in spite of the lovely, precise phrasing and visual imagery in Mansfield’s “The Garden Party,” its third-person narrative creates an ironic distance between what the main character, Laura, says that she feels and what the reader believes that she feels. It is a distance that an adult reader may enjoy more than a juvenile reader who longs to identify with the beautiful and charming teenage protagonist. The works that use the first-person narrative make their protagonists’ stories more immediate, more personal, and more painful. When Brodkey’s main character in “The State of Grace” suffers “the terrible desire to suddenly turn and run shouting back through the corridors of time, screaming at the boy I was, searching him out, and pounding on his chest: Love him, you damn fool, love him,” readers cannot help but feel his sorrow because they know and trust him—he is their friend and confidant, their narrator.

In one way or another, each of the collection’s stories explores a theme especially relevant to juvenile and young adult readers: the effect of loss, disappointment, failure, and sorrow on young and relatively inexperienced characters. In several of the stories, the experience of sorrow itself is what pushes the protagonist into adulthood. When the title character of “Nina” unexpectedly discovers the man she loves sitting close to her mother, looking at her with “tenderness and longing,” Nina initially feels only grief. Then she seems literally to regain her senses, noticing for the first time all day that the thorny scratches on her hand sting and that the gooseberries she has been eating leave the sour aftertaste of unripe fruit. Although this disappointment, this loss, may have introduced her to jealousy and cynicism, through it, she has also gained the power of perception: The world will no longer be so vague and confusing as it was before. In “The Writer in the Family,” Jonathan cannot really be a writer, or really be an adult, until he claims his pen as his own, until he shows his Aunt Frances that he will write his own story, not hers. That story must be about his father’s...

(The entire section is 725 words.)