Henry Gregor Felsen Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Henry Gregor Felsen 1916–

(Has also written as Gregor Felsen and under pseudonym Angus Vicker) American young adult novelist, nonfiction writer, scriptwriter, and journalist.

Felsen was among the first authors who wrote specifically for young people to invest his titles with the realism and emotional depth of adult literature. He dealt with subjects previously considered taboo for a young adult audience, such as war, death, and sexuality, and treated them without didacticism or sentimentality. His characters and their situations were also atypical. Several of his protagonists were anti-heroes and their adventures did not always end happily. His unconventional Hot Rod has been called one of the most important initial young adult novels, and it spawned a whole genre of similar works during the 1950s. His body of work reflects a writer with a strongly adult viewpoint who still understands and is sympathetic towards the feelings and experiences of teenagers.

Struggle Is Our Brother, Felsen's second novel, was universally praised for being not only an excellent adventure story, but also for the realistic and honest way it presented the facts of war to its audience. Many of Felsen's early novels had a military background, and he used all the major branches of the service as subjects. These books are characterized by well-rounded protagonists and authentic detail.

With his popular Bertie series, Felsen began including social implications in his novels. Bertie, the fat boy who makes good by personality and determination, was a strong character but some critics found him too perfect. However, the books about his escapades were usually praised for their humor and perceptiveness.

Felsen is best known for his novels about teenagers caught up in situations that lead them closer to adulthood. His series of car stories, which were written as a reaction to a rash of teenage traffic fatalities, present young readers with identifiable characters and backgrounds as they depict the tragedies that often result from vehicle misuse and carelessness. Some critics were shocked by the baldness of Felsen's descriptions, but they recognized the worth of the books in making young people more aware of the consequences of their actions.

Two and the Town provoked an equally strong reaction from parents and librarians in its frank treatment of teenage pregnancy and forced marriage. The novel has since been recognized as one of the best of the early realistic novels for young people, and its sensitivity and insight into this delicate problem has withstood the initial furor that accompanied its publication.

Felsen has been criticized for his occasionally weak backgrounds and characterizations, and for turning his novels into sermons or tracts. His latest works, nonfiction books of advice, have received special notice for their overly preachy style. Felsen's works may appear somewhat dated today, but the values that underscore them and the concern for young people that comes through keep these titles relevant and meaningful for contemporary audiences. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)