Virginia Hamilton Alice Walker - Essay

Alice Walker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Junior Brown [the protagonist of "The Planet of Junior Brown"] is a fat, black, hopeless boy, a 300-pound musical prodigy whose mother has untied the wires of the family piano. He sweats profusely, talks to himself, reaches out on the street to touch the faces of passing strangers and beats out his music lesson on the back of a chair. He looks like Buddha and eats like Paul Bunyan.

Into his miserable life come two friends: the janitor, Mr. Pool, once a teacher but now custodian of the high-school broom closet, and Buddy Clark, a tall, quiet, Robin Hood type. Buddy is the surrogate parent of a "planet" of homeless children, a "Tomorrow Billy" (because he always returns "tomorrow" with the food and clothing his dependents desperately need), and much of the story focuses on his attempt to be responsible for all the lost and unloved people he meets. When Junior Brown cracks up, following the lead of his already lunatic piano teacher, Miss Peebs, Buddy talks Mr. Pool out of sending him to a mental institution and with love and patience they try to help Junior Brown overcome the delusion that he carries Miss Peebs's relative, "a frightening monster with dirty, smelly socks," around with him….

There are interesting ideas in "The Planet of Junior Brown," but the book itself is surprisingly dull. Virginia Hamilton's characters and the situations she places them in are inventive but not inspired. Nothing lives. Episode follows episode with the spontaneity of something dragged in chains. Unlike the warm and memorable exchange between Geeder and Zeely in Miss Hamilton's finely woven tale, "Zeely," the exchanges between Junior Brown and Buddy Clark are oddly stilted, studied and false. This causes the book to move so slowly that impatience with the tedious stringing together of events soon obscures the sharpness of Miss Hamilton's occasionally impressive perception.

Alice Walker, in her review of "The Planet of Junior Brown," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 24, 1971, p. 8.