Nicholosa Mohr Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Nicholosa Mohr 1935–

American young adult novelist, short story writer, and illustrator. Mohr's work is noted for its realistic portrayal of life in New York City's Puerto Rican slums. An accomplished painter and printmaker, she received awards both as author and illustrator for her 1973 first novel, Nilda. Mohr says of her work: "It incorporates a strong social statement; the plight and constant struggle of the Puerto Ricans on the mainland to receive their basic human rights. Using art, the universal language of humanity, I bring forth the point-of-view of a subculture in America, the Puerto Rican people with all their variety and complexity." She is sometimes criticized for being more concerned with her characters as Puerto Ricans than as human beings, but her concern with the condition of that minority does not obscure her vision. She presents her characters sympathetically, but honestly, revealing their character flaws as well as strengths. Her work often deals with situations that are unconventional in young adult fiction, such as failed marriages, homosexuality, and illegitimacy. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52, and Something about the Author, Vol. 8.)

Nilda's growing up at first seems to be a chain of just so many unrelated demonstrations of the humiliation that ensues from being poor and Puerto Rican in New York [in 1941], the incidents lack neither sting nor sense of humor…. Quite unexpectedly, the unifying message [of Nilda] is delivered by Nilda's mother (previously seen as a hopeless muddle of piety and superstition) who confesses on her deathbed that "I cannot see who I am beyond the lives of the children I bore" and advises Nilda to "hold on to something all yours … never give it to nobody … not to your lover, not to your kids." The insight might be less of a blockbuster if we knew something of Nilda's own feelings in the matter, but the vigorous portrayal of Nilda's large family and acquaintanceship, the lively Spanglish accent, and the absence of any artificial solutions or epiphanies, gives this autobiographical first novel unusual strength. (p. 1097)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1973 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), October 1, 1973.