Lou Willet Staneck

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408

[Earlier] adolescent novels included adults who were often types and sometimes ridiculous such as Jane Purdy's father in Fifteen, who barked when her boyfriend called, but they were only peripheral characters. In Lisa, Bright and Dark, the adults do not play the typically remote roles. Lisa's parents are the villains and are as overdrawn as are their counterparts in a melodrama. Certainly ignorant and cruel parents do exist in the world, and I do not feel that adolescents should be shielded from reality. However, the credibility of characters is a traditional expectation in literature. (p. 22)

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It is with Lisa's parents, however, where Neufeld loses his credibility as a recorder of plausible character. When readers are presented with a distortion or an exaggeration of adult behavior through the eyes of a teenager, one takes into account the universal struggle between the generations and looks for other clues before making a decision about that adult character. Neufeld not only has his young characters see Mr. and Mrs. Shilling as insensitive, phony, self-centered and blind adults, he has them act and speak in these roles. The painful dinner table scene which opens the book, Mrs. Shilling's refusing to ride in the ambulance with Lisa after she walks through the glass wall, their refusal to listen to Lisa, her friends, their parents, or her teachers when it is suggested that something might be wrong with Lisa, are just a few of the many incidents which show these adults to be as bad as Betsy and her friends think they are.

Literature has a long tradition of villains, and my objection to this book is not that it has villains or even that they are parents. My objection is that they are badly drawn and incredible…. Mr. and Mrs. Shilling are just what they are and readers are cheated out of coming to an understanding why they are. After Lisa tries suicide at home by taking an overdose of pills, their roles are reversed and they become concerned parents doing the right thing. Why pills, and not a needle in the veins or a walk through a glass wall, makes them understand or care again is denied the reader. (pp. 22-3)

Lou Willet Staneck, "Adults and Adolescents: Ambivalence and Ambiguity," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the February, 1974 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1974), Vol. 20, No. 6, February, 1974, pp. 21-5.∗

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