Frank Bonham Zena Sutherland - Essay

Zena Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Some of the characters of Mystery of the Fat Cat appear again in [Cool Cat,] another story of ghetto youth: again, the acceptance by adolescents of a retarded child is one of the assets of the book, although a minor aspect. Several boys pool their money to buy an old truck so that they can do some hauling; they are persecuted by the Machete gang and reprisals follow. In and out of the action is the cool cat, Cal Brown, whose behavior has made the others suspicious. A pusher? But Cal turns out to be a narcotics agent, and he gets his man. There is no hint of this until the very end of the book, which—although it is well-written and grimly mirrors the ghetto scene—lacks direction or focus. (p. 152)

Zena Sutherland, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1971 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), June, 1971.

[The character] Chief has what it takes to keep [Chief] on its feet even when Bonham is not on his toes and starts to run away with it…. [Hereditary leader of a band of Santa Rosa Indians, he wants his lawyer to] make a case for Indian land rights in Harbor City. Barton Shackleford is as willing as he seems unable, being somewhat the worse for drink and the schizo-fantasy that he's Clarence Darrow defending Leopold and Loeb, but he claims that there is a loophole and offers to serve on a contingency basis so Chief figures they have nothing to lose. There's no reason why Chief couldn't have read the [legal] papers for himself and there's no call for a lot of the extravagances that follow: length-wise especially, Bonham stretches his basic design to the breaking point. But Chief is a sturdy rallying point and the fabric is intrinsically resilient enough to withstand the weight of all the embroidery; the dialogue is sharp—easygoing but resonant—and the problems and patterns of acculturation do emerge. (pp. 813-14)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1971 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), August 1, 1971.