John Neufeld Critical Essays

Introduction

John Neufeld 1938–

American novelist for young adults and adults, editor, playwright, short story writer, and television scriptwriter.

Behind each of Neufeld's works for young people is his strong confidence in the perceptiveness and capabilities of young people, in contrast to the general ineffectuality of adults. "Adults are in many ways simply chicken," says Betsy, the narrator of Lisa, Bright and Dark: Neufeld's treatment of adult society's reaction, and lack of reaction, to issues such as the acceptance of minorities and the handicapped, mental illness, and the understanding of love and sex underscores this philosophy. Neufeld's works center on how the lives of his young characters are changed by their confrontations with such thorny issues.

Neufeld's first novel, Edgar Allan, deals with the unsuccessful adoption of a black child by a white suburban minister and his family. It describes the inner turmoil and lack of unity within the family which lead to the failure of the adoption, and explores the themes of racism, intolerance, and the effect of community pressure.

With Sleep Two, Three, Four! Neufeld moved into the area of fantasy, weaving his own thinly veiled political commentary into this futuristic story of a freedomless society where young people are surrounded by excessive governmental restraint. Neufeld's most recent novels have explored the search for the meaning of love in the lives of their characters. As in earlier works, adults are again ineffectual in providing information or comfort. Despite criticism that Neufeld is overly sympathetic to his teenage protagonists at the expense of his adult characters, his works are popular with both adult and young adult readers for their success in showing the need for sensitivity and tolerance in society. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 6.)