Ouida Sebestyen Dana G. Clinton - Essay

Dana G. Clinton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The most striking fact about Ouida Sebestyen's novel "Words By Heart" is how instantly it calls to mind Mildred D. Taylor's 1977 Newbery Award winner, "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry." In both novels, a young adolescent black girl, long sheltered by loving parents in a close-knit and hard-working family, must come to terms with the reality of prejudice which exists against her people. Both Cassie (of "Roll of Thunder") and Lena (of "Words By Heart") are extremely intelligent girls, the oldest children often responsible for watching over their younger siblings. Each has particularly strong ties to her father who tries both to protect her and to initiate her into an unfair social world, a world in which they can remain superior only by keeping their dignity. Family pride and the desire to be independent are motivating factors in the families' lives; in both books the family's situation is favorably compared to that of unlucky sharecroppers who will never have independence. Yet both books end on a note of mingled hope and despair and the inevitable unanswered question: why must anyone undergo such trials for the right to grow on this earth in peace with his fellow men?

In spite of these very basic similarities to an earlier novel, "Words By Heart" is a book of stature which should be considered a valuable addition to the developing body of novels for young readers which expose realistically the long struggle of black people to take their...

(The entire section is 530 words.)