Nat(han Irving) Hentoff Zena Sutherland - Essay

Zena Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sam Davidson [the protagonist of This School Is Driving Me Crazy] is a bright, energetic boy with a Big Problem: he doesn't want to attend the school of which his father is headmaster. Father insists. Sam, always in some minor scrape or up to some mischief, is his teachers' despair. When a smaller boy, lying, accuses Sam of being the bully who forced him to steal, matters come to a head; the trio of real bullies is unmasked and expelled, the attitudes of teachers are exposed, and the relationship between Sam and his father improves—with Sam's impending transfer decided on by the end of the story. Sam is an engaging character, and the writing style—in particular the dialogue—is pungent. And a good thing, too, because the messages almost overbalance the narrative. Hentoff is concerned not only about the relationships between father and son, but about the role of the school, the responsibility of the teacher, and relationships between students and teachers. To make his points, he has overdrawn some characters, such as the adamantly hostile teacher Kozodoy or the glib, mendacious brother of one of the three expelled. Yet the issues affect all children in school, public or private, and the minor imbalances of the book are more than compensated for by humor, action, and setting.

Zena Sutherland, in her review of "This School Is Driving Me Crazy," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1976 by The University of Chicago), Vol. 29, No. 5, January, 1976, p. 78.