Esther Forbes Ellen Lewis Buell - Essay

Ellen Lewis Buell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Only a master craftsman, and one who has worked so much in the period that it has become a kind of second home in time, would dare to undertake that most familiar of themes—Boston at the outbreak of the war. Such a novelist is Esther Forbes and to ["Johnny Tremain"] she brings such freshness and vitality that one reads it with the avidity with which one follows today's news, with the extra dividend of pleasurable recognition of half forgotten episodes thrown in.

The reason, of course, is that Miss Forbes not only knows the wharves, the inns, the very cobblestones of eighteenth-century Boston about as intimately as her own back yard, but because she creates three dimensional people. Historical figures are clothed in flesh as well as good broadcloth, even casual street figures are endowed for the moment of their appearance with reality, and thus we see the temper of a city and a period….

The proportion between [Johnny's] personal fortunes and the larger theme of the Revolution is so delicately balanced that never for a moment does one forget either. The one is part and parcel of the other, true test of the novelist's skill. Miss Forbes calls this a novel for young and old, and adults will read it for its richness of color, its wit and humor, its illumination of a noble period, but it would be unfair to compare it to her major novels, for basically, in scope and concept, it is a novel for the teen age, and as such the most distinguished one we have had in years.

Ellen Lewis Buell, "A Story of Boston and the Revolution," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1943 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 14, 1943, p. 5.