Mary Stolz Jean Fritz - Essay

Jean Fritz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When Mary Stolz first began writing teen-age fiction, she was hailed not only as a distinguished writer but as a ground breaker, a realist not afraid to introduce a fat heroine into a field dominated by pretty, slim girls, not afraid to let unrequited love go unrequited although traditionally romances were expected to produce happy endings. But now it is 20 years later; realism in teen-age books means drugs, ghettoes, knives, illegitimate babies, alcoholic fathers, and Mary Stolz, after a seven-year absence from the teen-age field returns with ["By the Highway Home,"] a story her publishers say is of a modern girl coping with "contemporary issues."

Thirteen-year-old Catty Reed's brother was killed in Vietnam some months before the story opens; her father loses his job as a chemical engineer and eventually decides he would rather work on the land than to continue a profession oriented toward war. Yet Catty's story has little to do with these issues. It is the story of a girl's grief over a lost brother, her difficulties in getting along with a beautiful, self-centered sister, and her adjustment to a new life in Vermont…. As far as we are concerned, Catty is protected from the problems of her contemporaries since, except for an ambiguous moment with a boy, she is only seen in relationship to her family and the old people.

This is not to criticize the story, only to place it. In spite of the surrounding circumstances, the story is not contemporary in feeling; with minor changes it might have been written 20 years ago—or seven years ago when Miss Stolz wrote "Who Wants Music on Monday?" about a similar girl…. But this is a stronger book and relevant to today's youth as perceptive stories of family relationships will always be relevant. Indeed, as grief is relevant, and certainly Miss Stolz has remarkable insight into that long, aching grief that settles down to live with a family. She has given us an appealing heroine—sensitive and articulate but so sturdy and level-headed that we can't really worry about her. We simply enjoy. (p. 8)

Jean Fritz, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 24, 1971.