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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The fact that many of M. E. Kerr’s young adult novels remain popular and in print for years after they are first published indicates that these novels are not tied to the events of a particular time period or generation but rather address universal feelings and emotions that most young adults experience at some time or another. In addition, Kerr’s most commonly used theme of an underdog either struggling to gain social acceptance or learning to live without it, is one that many young adult readers find appealing.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Marijane Meaker, whose pen name is M. E. Kerr, was born May 27, 1927, in Auburn, New York. A dominant influence in her life was her father, Ellis, whose initials were the foundation for one of her pseudonyms, Eric Ranthram McKay. He was an extremely strict father who took his children to the basement and whipped them with a rope for misconduct, and he had strict rules on dating. One boyfriend called him Attila the Hun. She used the term "battered child" to describe herself because of the rage and violence her father displayed; nevertheless, he was a positive influence in her life. The Meaker home was filled with books, and her father was always researching something.

He owned a mayonnaise factory which, during World War II, dehydrated onions for the armed forces. Different from other fathers, he wore a beret and rode a bicycle through town. Her mother was extremely interested in gossip and what was going on in other people's lives, which may have influenced the careful observation of other people which can be seen in Kerr's books. Her mother pushed her to do socially acceptable things like ballroom dancing. She did not adjust well to her daughter's becoming a writer or to the fact that she did not marry and produce grandchildren.

She spent a turbulent childhood. Racial prejudice was a part of her early environment. World War II and her life in boarding school further fragmented the family. Her older brother attended military school and became an ensign in a torpedo bomber squad during the war. She was twelve years old when her younger brother was born. She felt that all the attention went to her two brothers. Therefore, she never used them as bases for characters in a book which might be her "way of crossing them out."

The best source of information about M. E. Kerr is her autobiographical book, Me Me Me Me Me: Not a Novel. By telling about the people who were important in her life, she reveals the story of her own life. Many people in her past were made into characters in her stories. She just brought them into more modern times:

I knew I could interest today's kids in yesterday's kids, because they're the same kids. I probably wouldn't set a novel in 1941, but I wouldn't hesitate to write about a kid from the forties, and make him or her a kid in the eighties. . . What's going on in the world is secondary to what's going on in high school, for in those vulnerable teen years high school is the world. There, a kid begins to get the first real feelings of being on his/her own, there, the idea of winning and losing starts taking shape, of being in or out, part of the crowd, or an outsider . . . . There, adults other than parents become role models or enemies or objects of ridicule . . . . And with all that going on, there are changes going on at home, as kids begin to see things they hadn't noticed before: the way their parents get along, or don't, the way their own brothers and sisters are coping.

In her autobiography she calls herself a bad kid. At Stuart Hall she was "disruptive." She cut the bell rope, put clear nail polish on the seniors' soap, put Alka-Seltzer in the inkwells, organized an atheists' club that sang the hymns in chapel backward, and joined the Communist Party. Eventually, she was expelled for throwing darts at pictures of the teachers, but her parents were able to get her back in school so that she could graduate. Is That You, Miss Blue? came from her boarding school experience.

Eventually, she went on to...

(The entire section is 1,502 words.)