The Good Children

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE GOOD CHILDREN is the story of the McNair family—Warden and Lee, and their four children ranging in age from six to fifteen. Warden’s job has transferred them to Oregon, and from Lee’s perspective, they are the perfect family moving into the perfect new house. She tells them often that no power on earth can touch a family that stays together and takes up for each other.

Then, Warden dies in a work accident. Lee takes it hard, retreating into herself, and the children—Kevin, Amy, Liz, and Brian—assume responsibility for daily life. They shop and cook, sign checks and pay bills, and deal with the attorney administering their father’s substantial estate. They do this so well that everyone, even the attorney, goes on believing that Lee is still functioning as head of the household.

This, in itself, would be enough for a good story. However, then Lee dies under mysterious circumstances. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that the children devise a way to keep her death a secret so they can stay together. With all the ingenuity and bravery they can muster, their deception succeeds for nearly seven years until the youngest, Brian, has a crisis that brings in outside medical, then psychological intervention.

Kate Wilhelm offers twists and turns that will keep readers occupied late into the night. Although the deception grows increasingly more complicated, the McNair children do not think they are doing anything wrong. They are only protecting themselves as best they can, and in spite of everything, they are still a family, just as their mother had said.

The situation is not resolved in a simplistic way; Wilhelm is too smart for that. Her open-ended resolution may still seem a little pat for some readers, but the route getting there is wonderful. Readers are likely to be left pondering the very real issues that Wilhelm deals with in the novel long after the last page is turned.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story is set in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, fifteen miles south of Portland, Oregon. The nearest village is three miles away, so the...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In Elizabeth McNair, the viewpoint character and narrator of the story, Wilhelm created an unreliable narrator, one whose incomplete...

(The entire section is 560 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Serious social issues, for example the failure of the social service system, the police, the schools and the legal system to help children in...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. This novel borrows literary techniques from several kinds of fiction, for example, romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery, and...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. This novel is both mystery story and an example of "Gothic horror." State the characteristics of the Gothic novel. When were Gothic novels...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

V. C. Andrews's Flowers in the Attic tells of four children who are taken back to their grandparents by their mother after their...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Leigh, Serena. Review. Voice of Youth Advocates (October 1, 1998): 280. This succinct review explores questions concerning the...

(The entire section is 120 words.)