(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Frank Bonham 1914–

American novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and screenwriter. Most of Bonham's young adult novels are concerned with minority youths and the problems they face. His books, which examine the lives of young blacks, Chicanos, Indians, and Japanese-Americans, are realistic accounts of modern life based on first-hand observation and his experiences in volunteer social work. In Dogtown, the prototypical West Coast ghetto that recurs in his work, Bonham has mapped out an area that is as well defined and intimately known as Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Bonham's work is insightful and compassionate, but he doesn't mouth platitudes or depict the harsh lives of his characters simply to elicit sympathy. Rather, he writes directly for underprivileged young adults, trying to involve them in literature by depicting life as they know it. As he says, "Durango Street was probably welcomed, not because it was an exceptional book, but because it filled a need. It is a book in which many Negro teenagers can see themselves." This concern for his reader is evident in all of his work, from the tough realism of Durango Street to his later, more fanciful books such as The Missing Persons League. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)

When Rufus Henry was released on parole from the reformatory, his social case worker found him a job and told him that he must not join a gang. Within two days Negro Rufus left his job and became a member of the Moors…. As the Moors, who shortly came under Rufus' leadership, slug it out with the [rival gang, the] Gassers, the author tastefully but honestly makes it clear just how dangerous these battles are [in Durango Street]. While the organization of gangs is undoubtedly more complex than the all-important matter of life or death, the frank recognition of this factor and of how serious life is for the teenager make this book welcome. Although it is with Rufus and his associates that readers will sympathize, the book is actually supposed to be about Special Service for Groups, an organization which sends group leaders to try to reorient gangs and eventually break them up. The S.S.G. representative who managed to attach himself to the Moors is a shadowy sort of person, and it is never quite clear why Rufus respects him more than the other social workers. His success is somewhat ephemeral (as presumably is often the case in reality), and the book ends with one problem cooperatively and successfully surmounted but with the future still unknown. This is a forthright presentation of a social problem which teenagers want and deserve to know more about. (p. 689)

Virginia Kirkus' Service, July 15, 1965.