Kitty in the Middle Analysis
by Judy Delton

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Kitty in the Middle Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Like much successful juvenile fiction, Kitty in the Middle examines life from a child’s perspective, allowing young readers to identify easily with its characters and situations. Although the novel’s action takes place during World War II, Kitty’s world does not seem unfamiliar to young contemporary readers, because the vision of childhood portrayed has universal currency. The novel’s scope extends no further than schoolyard, neighborhood, and church, so that the historical setting supplies ambience and educational value, without detracting from the universality of childhood experiences. The young reader gains a sense of being a part of a community of children that transcends both geography and time.

The novel encompasses one school year, the unit by which most children measure their lives. Delton recognizes that small matters loom large in childhood and that school is the main stage in every child’s life drama. The small but significant routines of the school day so familiar to all young people are effectively dramatized in Kitty in the Middle. The fear of being called on by the teacher, the thrill of Valentine’s Day, and the first crush on a schoolmate will all resonate with schoolchildren, particularly girls. The anticipation of a new school year—accompanied by such overwhelmingly urgent questions as “Who is my teacher?” “Who is my class?” and “What will I wear?”—is dramatized both by Kitty’s trepidation regarding Sister Ursuline and by the intense pleasure that she takes in her new shoes. Like most childhood fears and expectations, these prove to be exaggerated, as Kitty discovers that Sister Ursuline is subject to embarrassment like everyone else and that a pair of shoes alone is not a measure of one’s worth as a human being.

Although the novel’s depiction of grammar school rings true for most readers, Kitty in the Middle may resonate even more strongly for parochial school students. Delton’s inclusion of such details as the pupils’ beliefs that nuns have no hair and that attending Mass and Holy Communion the first Friday of the month nine times in a row guarantees entrance into Heaven, will strike a particular chord with Catholic school students (and their parents). The girls’ continuous preoccupation with what is and is not a sin, and how to atone for a sin once one is determined, should offer comfort to young readers grappling with such significant issues themselves.

Kitty in the Middle reassures young readers who are in the process of puzzling out their own identities that an infinite variety of personality traits and behaviors exists and that discovering one’s own particular characteristics is a lifelong process. Both Eileen and Mary Margaret have very strong, well-defined characters that illustrate that a wide diversity of human character is not only permissible but also desirable. Kitty, on the other hand, is still in the process of discovering her identity, taking on various aspects of her friends’ personalities when she is with them in order to ascertain what fits and what does not.

Kitty in the Middle neither lectures to its readers nor preaches to them. Its value dwells in the subtle message imparted that children’s concerns are not trivial and that their worries, fears, and joys are shared by young people everywhere. Delton nurtures in her readers the delights of friendship and the adventure of self-discovery, while whetting their appetites for exploring their world.