When Ellen Grae first appeared in 1967, it was deemed too taxing for children of Ellen Grae’s age because the moral dilemmas and conflicts with which she is faced were considered too difficult and/or inappropriate. Ellen Grae not only must decide whether to reveal a secret entrusted to her by a friend but also must deal with the adult issues of familial divorce, death, mental retardation, and poverty, balancing community values and personal values and independence in addition to the question of right and wrong.
The strength of Ellen Grae, however, is that the protagonist is shown to be capable of handling these quite difficult issues in an appropriate way because she can make decisions on her own, although she is not always comfortable with the outcome. The beauty and strength of the Cleavers’ writing is that they make readers believe that Ellen Grae is capable of moral determinations. They do so by graciously moving readers slowly to the conflict and by using a first-person narrative.
The authors situate the story in a small, lazy Florida town where everyone is known to each other, foibles and all, as is Ellen Grae and her tendency to tell outrageously comic stories. Although Ira spills his story to Ellen Grae at the beginning of the book, the novel’s first half is basically plot-free, even though the authors are skillfully heading toward a fast conflict and painful denouement. The plot moves as imperceptibly, quietly, and lazily as the overheated Florida town at Labor Day, when the conflict suddenly reemerges on a fateful treasure-hunting trip that Ellen Grae,...
(The entire section is 658 words.)