Kin Platt Zena Sutherland - Essay

Zena Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Hey, Dummy] Neil is at first both amused and repelled by the retarded boy who has moved into the neighborhood and is attending his school, but he soon begins to feel sympathy for Alan (the "Dummy" of the title) and to defend him when others tease him. And Alan responds, following Neil affectionately. Soon rejected by his other friends, worried by Alan's situation (autistic sister, withdrawn mother, father in an institution, home a shambles) and bitterly conscious of the harshness and hostility of his own parents, Neil is driven to run off with Alan. When they are caught, tension has pushed Neil to the breaking-point, and his sympathy for Alan results in his identifying with Alan. There has been, throughout the book, a train-of-consciousness reaction from the retarded Alan, and the startling ending has the same disjointed and monosyllabic speech (always italicized) only this time it is Neil. He has become a dummy, too. Not quite as effective as Platt's other study of a disturbed child (perhaps because the focus is broader here and therefore more diffuse) this is, nevertheless, a perceptive treatment of a child's sensitivity. Artistically it suffers somewhat because there is so little relief from the almost universal reactions of suspicion, intolerance, fear, and hostility on the parts of the adult characters.

Zena Sutherland, in her review of "Hey, Dummy," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1972 by The University of Chicago), Vol. 25, No. 10, June, 1972, p. 162.