Thomas Farel Heffernan

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

Millie's Boy continues the use of the turn of the century southern Vermont setting that Robert Newton Peck introduced in A Day No Pigs Would Die. The earlier book was a bit of family history; it described isolated rural life in a residually Shaker community, and delivered a heavy dose of ruralism somewhat on the order of descriptions that Homer Croy might have written years ago, but colored by an overly sentimental examination of the boy narrator's psychology. Even worse was the effort to turn the boy into another Huck Finn by giving him cute ways of expressing his incomprehension of the world. Colorfulness via naiveté has its limits and they are as readily detected by young as by old readers.

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Millie's Boy, however, is something else. Time and setting are more or less the same as in A Day No Pigs Would Die, but the protagonist is the son of the village whore and the book opens with him being shot and injured by the unseen figure who has just murdered his mother. Definitely a stronger cup of tea.

There is plenty of adventure in the book that is well calculated for young readers….

The main quest of the young hero … is not for his mother's murderer, but for his own father. He finds him and learns that he is the most vicious man in the countryside, well known to be an unprosecuted murderer. (p. 207)

For whom is this book intended? Is it written on the assumption that innocence ends earlier than we usually think? Or that it ought to? If the book could pass as an adult novel, it could simply be called one. But it isn't. The point of view and the framing of the story clearly indicate that it is a children's book.

There is something else in the book that raises a question about its suitability for young audiences. The raw treatment of sex and the extreme violence in the book may not make it unfit for every young reader. But there are scenes between the hero and Amy, the ward of the country doctor he is living with, which have that peculiar teasing quality of the prurient movie…. Facing sex is mature, but playing with titillation is neither mature nor useful. It is no more commendable in a book for adolescents than in a book that capitalizes on the adolescent fantasies of adults. (p. 208)

Thomas Farel Heffernan, "'Millie's Boy'," in Children's Literature: Annual of The Modern Language Association Seminar on Children's Literature and The Children's Literature Association, Vol. 4, edited by Francelia Butler (© 1975 by Francelia Butler; reprinted by permission of The Children's Literature Foundation, Box 370, Windham Center, CT 06280), Temple University Press, 1975, pp. 207-08.

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