The passionate intensity of My Brilliant Career is both its principal weakness and its greatest strength. Although the novel descends into melodrama, the authenticity of its young author’s voice eloquently expresses juvenile anguish and gives articulate utterance to the universal adolescent concerns of self-doubt, isolation, and gender identity.
Franklin convincingly conveys the self-obsession and insecurities typical to many young adults. For example, Sybylla becomes fixated on her appearance, convinced that she is unbearably ugly, and no amount of evidence to the contrary will persuade her otherwise. Also sure to resonate with young readers is Sybylla’s conviction that her torrential emotions are utterly unique, as she agonizes, “What was the hot wild spirit which surged within me? . . . Why was I not like other girls?” These adolescent uncertainties regarding appearance and emotion have fueled popular literature, including teen magazines, for years.
Also like many adolescents, Sybylla feels misunderstood and estranged from both family and society. Her father has become an embarrassing disappointment to her, barely able to keep his family from starvation as he drinks away what little he is able to make. Her mother has lost her refinement in the family’s hard-scrabble existence and has become bitter, unhappy, and completely unsympathetic to her rebellious teenage daughter. Sybylla finds little solace or understanding from...
(The entire section is 542 words.)