Sue Ellen Bridgers JEAN McINTYRE - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I have recently seen [Home Before Dark] for sale on a rack of adult fiction, which is where it belongs even if its author intended it for children. Its story entwines two problems, the Migrant Willis family's conflicts as the father attempts to settle again on his brothers' North Carolina farm, and sex as it embroils all the main characters from the aging spinster Maggie Grover to the barely adolescent Toby Brown. Though this story centers on fourteen-year-old Stella Willis, it is not so much about her as about the social and personal conflicts that come first as her mother Mae's obsessive urge to keep moving on fails to budge daughter and husband (until she actually appears to summon down the lightning strike which kills her), then as the impact of father and daughter unsettles two generations of neighbors. Stella provokes premature sexual love from Toby Brown and delayed sexual urges in Rodney Biggers, until Rodney's jealousy issues in violence against Toby and his own total human failure…. The main events take second place to the background commentary of Toby's parents, settled in an unobtrusive domestic resignation, of Anne Willis, whose marriage with Newton and subsequent life with him have come about by cool planning, of Jean Biggers, typically sure that love is mere sex and the sure path to ruin. Its focus on the sexual, its dominant interest in adult emotions (even as felt by those little more than children), and its shifting viewpoints as it moves from one mind to another make Home Before Dark a book for readers too mature to be called children. (pp. 94-5)

Jean McIntyre, in her review of "Home Before Dark," in The World of Children's Books (© 1978 Jon C. Stott), Vol, III, No. 1, Spring, 1978, pp. 94-5.