Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In his first-person narrative, Charles Goldberg describes his family as loving yet fraught with tensions. His own perplexities are heightened by sibling rivalry with his gifted younger brother, Kaylo, and the constant needling that he must endure from his well-meaning father. His mother seems preoccupied, out of touch, and oblivious to his needs. Only Josie, their African American housekeeper, provides genuine maternal guidance, with empathy and humor. In his mirror, Charles sees a physically unattractive youth, gauche with the opposite sex and not really up to the challenge of the special high school for which he has barely managed to qualify. Although lacking in glamour, his parents, by contrast, seem moderately successful, with his father’s medical practice and his mother’s partnership in a catering business.

Conflicts in the family become centered on Gustel, Charles’s grandmother, whose mental and physical decline as a result of Alzheimer’s disease is particularly poignant because of the dynamic person that she has been. Her hard work as a masseuse enabled her son to complete medical school; her drive brought an immigrant Jewish family into the American middle class. Now, her active and pleasurable life, with its many friends and hobbies, is gone. No longer able to live alone in her Florida home, she plays havoc with the Goldbergs’ New York apartment. Her nightly prowls frighten Kaylo, whose closet walls are decorated with the “memoirs” that she scrawls in Yiddish. Although her son is still the acknowledged deity of her universe, Gustel no longer remembers his name. Forgetting even to dress herself, she cannot control her bodily functions. As the active lives of all the Goldbergs are increasingly disrupted, even Josie is reduced from housekeeper and gourmet cook to...

(The entire section is 734 words.)