Originally published as an adult novel, Sara Will was later accepted as a young adult novel and was recognized as an American Library Association (ALA) Best Book. Sara Will, like Sue Ellen Bridgers’ other young adult novels, stresses the importance of family. Critics, such as Joseph O. Milner in “The Emergence of Awe in Recent Children’s Literature,” see this emphasis on family as setting Bridgers apart from other young adult authors. Her novels examine relationships among the generations, often with teenagers connecting with their grandparents or people who represent tradition. Bridgers states that family life is “the core of my writing” in “Stories My Grandmother Told Me” in the ALAN Review. Permanent Connections (1987) expresses the importance of family connections in its title and in its story of Rob Dickson, who learns to accept his connections to his senile grandfather, his agoraphobic aunt, his injured uncle, and his father. Home Before Dark (1985) explores the changes that occur when Stella’s mother dies and her father remarries, causing Stella first to make their cabin a home and eventually to move to her new home. In both All Together Now (1979), the winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the Christopher Award, and Notes for Another Life (1981), teenagers live with grandparents who nurture them.
Bridgers is a Southern writer whom critics praise for vivid evocations of the smalltown North Carolina setting with which she is familiar, for rich characterization, and for the authentic voices of her characters. According to Bridgers, Sara Will came to her suddenly and fully developed, a compelling character. Bridgers captures Sara Will’s repression, emotional turmoil, and growing self-awareness in concrete, vivid details. Pamela Sissi Carroll, the author of the first doctoral dissertation on Bridgers, ranks her with writers of the Southern Renaissance. Both All Together Now and Notes for Another Life were nominated for the American Book Award and were named ALA Best Books. In 1985, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents honored Bridgers with the ALAN Award for her outstanding contributions to young adult literature.