Norma Klein Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Norma Klein 1938–

American novelist, short story writer, and poet.

An author of fiction for all ages, Klein is best known for her socially realistic novels for pre-teens and teenagers. These differ from traditional young adult novels in their frank and sympathetic treatment of unconventional subjects, their implicitly feminist viewpoint, and their candid depiction of alternative lifestyles. For example, Mom, the Wolf Man and Me (1972), Klein's first and most commercially and critically successful novel, is narrated by a well-adjusted eleven-year-old girl whose mother has never been married. The story involves the girl's relationship with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, the "Wolf Man."

Nearly all of Klein's works deal with love and family conflicts and feature female protagonists. Klein considers herself a feminist and writes for "girls who are active intellectually, who are strong, interesting people." Thus, Love Is One of the Choices (1979) tells of two high school friends who experience their first love affairs and the conflicts the affairs cause with their personal and professional goals. Like this novel, many of Klein's works involve the sexual initiation of her protagonists. Although abortion is treated in some of her stories, as are other problem subjects such as lesbianism and divorce, Klein does not present pregnancy and emotional scarring as the inevitable result of teenage sex.

Critical reaction to both the subject matter and the literary value of Klein's work has been divided. Some critics question the appropriateness of the language she uses and the situations she portrays; they often object to the explicit sex scenes and her depiction of parents who condone premarital sex. Other critics feel that Klein's work has filled a need for novels which treat changing contemporary values in a frank and accepting manner. Many critics, however, even those who approve of her treatment of controversial issues, find her characters underdeveloped and her plots simplistic. They contend that her overly optimistic view of life leads her to understate the pain and conflict inherent in many of her situations. For instance, one critic has noted that in It's Not What You Expect (1973), Klein treats abortion as a purely financial problem. However, critics often praise the realism of her dialogue, her sensible, humorous tone, and her portrayal of parents as people with problems and weaknesses of their own. They cite these, as well as her compassion and frankness, as the source of Klein's popularity among young adults.

In Klein's adult works, which include short story collections as well as novels, the protagonists are older but the thematic concerns are similar to those in her young adult fiction. For example, Give Me One Good Reason (1974), like Wolf Man, involves a woman who decides to have a child even though there is no man in her life. Klein's short stories are generally considered her most successful works of adult fiction; her recent collection, Sextet in A Minor (1983), contains the short story "The Wrong Man," which received an O. Henry award in 1983.

(See also Children's Literature Review, Vol. 2; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 41-44, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 7.)