Ouida Sebestyen Hazel Rochman - Essay

Hazel Rochman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Thirteen-year-old Stowe [the hero of "IOU's"] and his mother, Annie, like each other. Deserted by her husband and estranged from her father, Annie has enjoyed bringing up Stowe on her own in spite of the economic hardship. Their teasing, affectionate relationship is questioned by Stowe's friend Brownie, who can only see parents in terms of adversarial authority and who taunts Stowe about his need for his mother's approval….

Stowe's ambivalence is wonderfully captured. He has moments of sudden recklessness, exhilarated at having risked pursuing his way even if his mother might be right. But he also nurses a secret prayer: "Let me be better to her than they were…. I want to make it up to my mother."

The crisis of his grandfather's dying helps release Stowe's dammed-up feelings. He lets go of his hatred and exposes himself to the terror of loss. With Annie's love he feels able to travel "the scariness of new country" and to begin the search for his own father, breaking the pattern of what happened with hers.

Although Ouida Sebestyen allows her characters to talk too explicitly about these themes, making connections for the reader that would be better left tentative, this is a powerful story. As in Miss Sebestyen's award-winning "Words by Heart," the young protagonist, strengthened by the love and integrity of a parent, takes on moral responsibility in a harsh world.

Hazel Rochman, in a review of "IOU's," in The New York Times Book Review, September 19, 1982, p. 41.