Sally Benson Gladys Graham Bates - Essay

Gladys Graham Bates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The one unsatisfactory thing about [Junior Miss, the] series of stories concerning young Judy Graves …, is that there are not enough of them. Judy is a terror and a delight and she is habit forming for the reader. She gets hold of your emotions and won't let go, and she very certainly divides your personality because you suffer with her, as you read, the nostalgic misery of having your every young motive misunderstood by a practically moronic adult world, and you suffer with her elders the sense of fury and frustration at the optimistic but only occasionally controlled energy of youth so damaging to the smugger middle years. You will be amused almost continuously through these adventures with Judy but you will be harrowed, too, for Sally Benson's humor is based on the inherent conflicts between the ego and its environment, and not on any superficial "quaintness" of children.

Judy is almost always somebody else and the slowness with which the family recognizes the dramatic personalities of the moment accounts for many of the hilarious situations which form stories…. But there is little use trying to give the charm of the stories by telling what they are about, for Sally Benson has made her incisive, word-clipped style an integral part of them. She has an uncanny accuracy in catching the exact detail of description which will bring a whole personality to mind with the sharpest effect and in touching upon the one incident which will recreate the whole of a childish tragedy. If you put these tales aside as children's stories simply you will miss some extremely shrewd comment on human nature in general and our own day in particular….

[Judy's] fierce and dramatic attitude towards life will wear you down as it moves ruthlessly upon its way towards its own unfathomable ends, but it will give you a salutary reminder that life begins practically at birth.

Gladys Graham Bates, "New Fiction: 'Junior Miss'," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1941 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXIV, No. 5, May 24, 1941, p. 11.