Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ouida Sebestyen 1924–

(Also writes under the pseudonym Igen Sebestyen) American novelist and short story writer.

Sebestyen's novels for young adults usually center on poor teenage protagonists who gain the maturity and understanding necessary to triumph emotionally over adversity. Critics often praise Sebestyen for the strength of her central characters, the poetry and realism of her diction, and for the optimistic vision of life that she presents in her work.

Sebestyen's best-known novel, Words by Heart (1979), is set in 1910 and is told by thirteen-year-old Lena, a black minister's daughter, who moves with her family to an all-white town. In the course of the book, Lena adopts her father's method of coping with the prejudice and violence her family encounters: "turning the other cheek." The book's title reflects Lena's journey from merely memorizing biblical verses to living by them, which is to know them "by heart." Words by Heart was acclaimed by many in the literary establishment and won a place on several "best books" lists. Concurrently, however, it was subject to harsh criticism from some who questioned the values which Sebestyen promoted, and she was accused of racism in portraying stereotypical black characters who are passive in the face of injustice and prejudice. Although Sebestyen's subsequent novels, Far from Home (1980) and IOU's (1982), received less critical attention than Words by Heart, critics were generally favorable in their assessments of these works.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 107.)