John W. Conner

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 236

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Record the voice of an adolescent as he speaks and writes to a child for a three-year-period and you will have an interesting account of that adolescent's growth. This is the device employed by Maia Wojciechowska in her new novel, "Don't Play Dead Before You Have To." The device is as pretentious as the quotation marks about the title of this brief novel.

It doesn't work. Byron, the adolescent, is an unbelievable, average guy who is sincerely concerned about the problems and welfare of a five-year-old boy for whom he babysits…. A reader learns a great deal about Byron through these oral and written conversations with Charlie. But what a reader learns does not contribute to the character the author tries to develop.

The language in which Byron couches his ideas lacks credibility. Byron's sentences contain an occasional four-letter epithet but they are never incomplete. His expressions are not those of a mid-adolescent. Near the end of this brief novel, Byron defends his swearing, because, he says, it is similar to long hair. Both, he says, don't mean a thing. I'm afraid "Don't Play Dead Before You Have To" doesn't mean a thing either. (pp. 277-78)

John W. Conner, in his review of "Don't Play Dead Before You Have To" (copyright © 1971 by the National Council of Teachers of English; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), in English Journal, Vol. 60, No. 2, February, 1971, pp. 277-78.


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