Robert Newton Peck Patricia Lee Gauch - Essay

Patricia Lee Gauch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Robert Newton Peck has never been more the consummate storyteller than in ["Clunie", a] book about Clunie Finn, a retarded farm girl caught in a web of adolescent cruelty.

Using a breathless present-tense narrative, he puts into play four very different teenagers who want something strangely similar out of the spring season….

Then he lets them loose in a series of alternately gentle and startling chapters, each putting a block on the scale that inevitably tips toward a rainy May afternoon tragedy.

One can occasionally fault the folksy rural dialect, wonder at Clunie's almost-perfect wisdom, and be infuriated with the one-sided treatment of Sally; nonetheless, "Clunie" is a sensitive, compelling story.

But for whom? There's the problem. Mr. Peck makes us care most about outsiders Leo and Clunie. Thus the chapter in which a hot, frustrated Leo is determined to stalk and have the gentle Clunie because "she'd never be able to squeal on ya" causes emotional mayhem.

The editors have neatly placed the book in the Young Adult category; but that doesn't solve the problem. The book's vocabulary and appearance are more appealing to a younger (10 to 13) or less proficient reader—exactly the reader for whom the book is of questionable value…. The dilemma will be how to do justice to a good book and the young or immature reader as well.

Patricia Lee Gauch, "Childrens Books: 'Clunie'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 24, 1980, p. 33.