Ellen Grae, the first book by Bill and Vera Cleaver, is distinguished by its characterization, plot, and style, aspects of writing that would become their hallmarks. The novel is told crisply, with short sentences and paragraphs, in solid but not patronizing prose, and from a first-person point of view. Almost novella-length and reading like a superbly crafted short story, the book itself is surprisingly brief considering the density of its material and its meaning.
The reader is introduced to Ellen Grae, who every year is sent to spend the school term with Mr. and Mrs. McGruder by her divorced (although loving) parents. The opening words reveal in a clipped, character-revealing dialogue an eleven-year-old who admits to being troublesome and independent in her thinking. The first-person narration is of great importance—although it has been a source of criticism in that Ellen Grae sees herself as well as others through a fairly sophisticated lens—because the lessons that are learned in the book are Ellen Grae’s alone; she ends up sharing her values with no one else, save perhaps her fishing buddy, Grover. An omniscient point of view would not have allowed the reader to grow with the protagonist and come to some understanding of the moral dilemma in which she finds herself enmeshed.
The town “half wit,” Ira, who speaks only to Ellen Grae and her friend, Grover, confides in her that he has, mistakenly and without premeditation,...
(The entire section is 489 words.)