Mary Stolz Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mary Stolz 1920–

American novelist and short story writer. Stolz's works are recognized as among the first written for young people that accurately represented their concerns, feelings, and lifestyles, and did so with empathy and respect. Her plots and themes are realistic ones: family relationships, divorce, social problems, and the expectations and disappointments of growing up. Although many of her works include a standard boy/girl relationship as their basis, Stolz is mainly interested in the increased awareness and maturity of her characters, whom both readers and critics generally consider exceptionally well developed and true to life. After she completes writing a book, she has said, "I know the characters as if they were friends. They're still there—real." Stolz started her writing career by selling her first stories to periodicals such as Ladies Home Journal and Seventeen. In 1948 she was hospitalized for three months; to combat her depression her doctor (who later became her husband) suggested that she write something of greater length. The book that followed, To Tell Your Love, set the standard for Stolz's portrayals of adolescents and their families. Much of Stolz's fiction is based on fact, especially on things that have happened to her son and young relatives. In order to keep her situations, settings, and dialogue correct and relevant, she quizzes the members of her family to find out if all the details ring true. Her respect for young people is evident in the way she characterizes them: her protagonists, often young women, are intelligent and ambitious, and are interested in literature and the arts. They are aware of the larger world that surrounds them, and are often anxious to become involved in its betterment; Stolz herself has been a part of several movements for peace. She has been criticized for writing novels that are too issue-oriented, and for the similarities among some of her characters and dialogue. However, she has published over 40 books, many for younger children and a few for adults, which have been printed in nearly 30 languages. In 1954, her In a Mirror was given the Child Study Association Award, which is presented to a children's book which deals realistically with the problems of childhood. Her analyses of social relationships and human values in the often complicated world of the young adult have been written with sensitivity and perception for almost three decades. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 10.)

[To Tell Your Love is a] lively, better than average romance-family novel for teen-age girls. As in the 18th century novels of sensibility, the Armacost family leads tremulously emotional lives. The school teacher, bird-watching father, charming gentle mother, twenty-three year old poetry loving nurse, Theo, lovely and impetuous eighteen year old Anne, and self-conscious, sensitive, fourteen year old Johnny—all vibrate to each other's problems like overwrought canaries. Meditations, snatches of poetry and diaries reflect the Armacost problems…. There may be a surfeit of nobility here, but the family relationships are warm and happy, the dialogue witty, and the sobering picture of a moneyless teen-age marriage gives the book substance. Also the sympathetic glimpse of a kid brother may inspire the teen-age girl to take a second look at the traditional pest. (p. 424)

Virginia Kirkus' Bookshop Service, August 1, 1950.