Critical Overview

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Since its first publication in 1995, Seth and Samona has been lavished with critical praise, with its admirers only infrequently able to find small points to question. The book's publisher, Delacorte Press, awarded it the second annual Marguarite de Angeli Prize for that year. It has become a staple on lists of books that offer multicultural views to school children and among books concerned with bringing the Haitian experience to readers of all ages. Most reviewers have felt that this novel offers compelling characterizations, realistic situations and a look at the lives of blacks in America, Haitian-Americans in particular, that looks at important social issues without preaching. As the review in the School Library Journal explained it for library purchasing boards that were considering this book for their collection, "the dialog and characterizations combine flawlessly to give Seth a loud, clear voice; through him, readers come to know Samona, who is a special person indeed.’’ A similar publication, The Horn Book Magazine, which reviews children's books for parents and educators, proclaimed that ‘‘Seth's narration rings true in this laudable first novel.’’

The few weaknesses that reviewers have been able to find in the novel have never been considered cause to give it a bad overall review, and their disappointments are seldom consistent from one reviewer to the next. For instance, while the School Library Journal commends the books' use of Seth as a narrator, Martha Merson, of Boston's Adult Literacy Resource Institute, wondered whether, given, the events portrayed here, Seth is really the best character to have tell the story. "I keep wondering if Hyppolite made the right decision in choosing

Seth's perspective,’’ she wrote. Merson then went on to consider the consider the book's requirements: the different aspects of this particular corner of Dorchester that Hyppolite wanted to examine and the fact that the novel would be less fun if readers had Samona's view of life told directly by her. Her conclusion was that ‘‘only a peer of Samona's situated on a Haitian family could give us such a broad view‘‘—in other words, Seth was the right narrator after all. Merson's review begins with noting that the book is ‘‘beautifully written,’’ but ends with the observation that "I felt vaguely dissatisfied with the book.

Another reviewer who felt just slightly displeased was Hazel Rochman, who examined it for Booklist when it was published. Overall, she was impressed, but she did express one slight twinge of regret over the fact that the book's social message was not integrated more throughout the story. "Some of the episodes are contrived,’’ Rochman noted, "and the messages about black pride are sometimes too spelled out, but they aren't simplistic messages.’’ As with Merson, she recognized that the things she liked least about the story might be necessary to convey the things she liked the most.

Bob Corbett, former publisher of a magazine about Haiti called Stretch, reviewed the book from the perspective of an immigrant from Haiti, and found that Seth and Samona examined the problems of being the first generation n a family to grow up in anew country ‘‘with sensitivity, insight, and engaging characters.'' Like all of the book's other reviewers, Corbett was impressed with Hyppolite's ability to write about Seth's life and situation with such honesty, and his added perspective made him even more enthusiastic about this novel: "certainly any Haitian-American family facing these sorts of immigrant issues would be well advised to introduce the book to pre-teens and teens of their household, and read it themselves in the bargain.’’

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Essays and Criticism