Robert Newton Peck Nathaniel Benchley - Essay

Nathaniel Benchley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The search for one's identity—the "Who is the real me?" syndrome—is such a well thumbed theme that it takes a good deal of novelty to make it seem fresh. In "Millie's Boy," Robert Newton Peck has thrown such a set of problems at his hero that simply to survive them is a feat of no mean proportions; the question of who he is becomes secondary, and the result is an adventure story rather than a genealogical one. This is probably just as well, because the final answer is too logical to be exciting….

The love interest is provided by Fern's niece, Amy Hallow. She has a scene with Tit, during which he tries to find a feather that got down the back of her nightgown during a pillow fight, which may rank as one of the funnier semierotic scenes in juvenile fiction. Nothing happens, but you get the feeling that neither of the characters knew what might happen….

During all the time that Tit is looking for his father he keeps coming across people who apparently know the story but are unwilling to tell him, and after a while the hints are broad enough so that the reader, if not Tit, begins to get the answer. There is an irony to it, in that Tit would possibly have been better off not knowing, but it's a case that could be argued both ways, and Mr. Peck sees to it that Tit is happy in his new-found knowledge. It is knowledge that was earned the hard way, and that is probably the best.

Nathaniel Benchley, "For Young Readers: 'Millie's Boy'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 18, 1973, p. 8.