Isabelle Holland Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Isabelle Holland 1920–

American young adult and adult novelist and short story writer.

Holland explores the lives of lonely, troubled adolescents and concentrates on issues important to contemporary young people. Her protagonists are sympathetically portrayed, triumphing over distressing family situations with ingenuity and good humor. Holland draws weak, ineffectual parents to illustrate that adolescent problems are caused by a lack of traditional authority figures. She also deals with the adult who becomes a guiding force in the young person's life, such as Justin McLeod in The Man without a Face. Holland's treatment of such themes as self-respect and the universal need for companionship has led critics to charge her with being didactic and imposing her conservative moral values on the reader. She has also been criticized for manipulating plot and action to lighten more disturbing episodes and for oversimplifying and distorting character and situation to make her points. It is generally agreed, however, that Holland's strengths lie in her convincing portrayals of and sensitivity to the needs of adolescents.

Because of their realism, several of her works are controversial, most prominently The Man without a Face, which includes a homosexual episode. Although it is generally felt that Holland handles the brief encounter between Charles and Justin tastefully, some critics see Justin's death in the end as Holland's way of avoiding a more natural resolution of the relationship; Holland has stated that the encounter is itself less important than Charles's resulting emotional maturity. Of Love, Death, and Other Journeys is considered one of Holland's most successful books. The reader follows Meg through difficulties, including the death of her mother, that lead her to a better understanding of herself and others. This book illustrates Holland's ability to capture adolescent qualities and is the first of her works to soften her earlier vision of the flighty, incompetent parent.

In the mid-1970s Holland began writing contemporary Gothic mysteries. These light, well-written novels are considered superior to most books of the genre. Like her novels for young people, these works are characterized by Holland's strong sense of humor. Her respect for the integrity of the young is especially evident in her books for them, and her popularity among this audience suggests a mutual admiration. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed., and Something About the Author, Vol. 8.)