Zoa (Morin) Sherburne Essay - Critical Essays

Sherburne, Zoa (Morin)


Zoa (Morin) Sherburne 1912–

American novelist, short story writer, and poet.

Sherburne is best known for her novels which realistically explore problems often faced by today's young adults. Her teenagers typically struggle to come to terms with such traumatic family situations as divorce, remarriage, death, and mentally ill or physically handicapped parents. Sherburne's protagonists encounter such difficulties as unwanted pregnancy, involvement with drugs, unrequited first love, and unpopularity. Too Bad about the Haines Girl (1967), one of the first young adult books to confront the problem of teenage pregnancy, is perhaps her best-known work.

In addition to her realistic novels, Sherburne has also written science fiction and Gothic novels. The Girl Who Knew Tomorrow (1970) is the story of Angie, a girl with extrasensory perception who must learn to use her gift without abusing it. Why Have the Birds Stopped Singing? (1974) is a Gothic tale in which the protagonist travels back in time, assuming the identity of one of her ancestors. Both the protagonist and her ancestor are epileptic; Sherburne's sympathetic treatment of this affliction is generally considered the strongest asset of the book.

Sherburne has also published over 300 short stories and verses in various magazines. Her work is often praised for its vivid characterizations and well-developed plots.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3; and Something about the Author, Vol. 3.)

Alberta Eiseman

When Karen Hale [protagonist of "Almost April"] went to Oregon to live with her father and his new wife, Jan, she was all set to dislike them both. She had not seen her father for years, and her mother's recent death had left her bitter and unhappy. The Hales' love and understanding, and Jan's obvious desire to make her happy, won Karen over. Then her friendship with Nels Carlson reopened the rift with her father….

This is a fast-reading story of a difficult year in a young girl's life, for the many adjustments always present during the teens are complicated, in Karen's case, by her unhappy background. The windswept coast of the Pacific makes an exciting background for the stormy romance between Karen and Nels.

Alberta Eiseman, "A Crucial Year," in The New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1956, p. 24.

Louise S. Bechtel

The cards are stacked against the Karen of ["Almost April"] in ways that should make many unadjusted girls feel they are lucky: parents divorced, mother dies, Karen lives with difficult grandmother; grandmother ill…. For us, Karen is an unpleasant sort of girl, even when she begins to see the light and reform her ways, so that all ends happily. It is a story with rather more adult implications than most junior novels; it is well written and expert at describing teen-age emotions.

Louise S. Bechtel, in a review of "Almost April," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, March 11, 1956, p. 7.

Alberta Eiseman

A summer job in Mountcastle, the most exclusive section of town, was the fulfillment of a dream for Leeann Storm [protagonist of "The High White Wall"]. Ever since she could remember, the ivied wall surrounding this residential area had symbolized for her a secure, enviable way of life, and she had gladly escaped from her own overcrowded home…. Though she missed her family, Leeann had no trouble adjusting to the Kingsley's beautiful house, and enjoyed taking care of their two little girls and doing secretarial work for their older son Dirk…. She found that she was able to help Dirk make some difficult decisions, and that a lot of her own thinking needed to be rearranged, too.

An ambitious 18-year-old, anxious to get away from her own environment, does not always make a likable heroine, yet Mrs. Sherburne has penciled in her backgrounds skillfully, and has made the reader entirely sympathetic with Leeann's motives. All of which—unfortunately—made it doubly difficult for this reviewer to accept the sudden change in Leeann's values as she finds herself falling in love with Dirk.

Alberta Eiseman, "Escape," in The New York Times Book Review, February 3, 1957, p. 32.

Jennie D. Lindquist

Younger teen-agers will enjoy [the experiences of Leeann, protagonist of The High White Wall]. There is nothing particularly original about them but the book is well written and the characterization exceptionally good. Leeann, her family, the children behind the high wall, their parents, and the two young men who bring romance into the story are all real people. The part about the death of Leeann's little sister is very well done. (p. 141)

Jennie D. Lindquist, in a review of "The High White Wall," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, April, 1957, pp. 140-41.

Jane Cobb

The more one considers the before and after of the Misses, Queens and Princesses … the more interesting the situation becomes. These are not just pretty, costumed girls beaming out of the newspaper—the Miss or Princess career has a beginning and an end. In "Princess in Denim" Zoa Sherburne presents such a career in interesting detail.

The heroine is Eden, a nice girl who keeps house for her father and likes to ride horseback. Her friend Steve enters her picture in the contest for Tulip Princess….

[She] became Tulip Princess, and she had a wonderful time. Then the wheels of commerce began to grind; she was entered in the Miss Washington contest and it wasn't fun. It was vicious and exhausting. The entire experience was tough on Eden, but she learned a lot about herself and life, as will the reader.

Jane Cobb, "Contest Winner," in The New York Times Book Review, March 23, 1958, p. 36.

Alberta Eiseman

Zoa Sherburne, in ["Jennifer"], the latest of her perceptive, well written books, tackles the subject of alcoholism, or, to be more precise, the effect of a mother's alcoholism on a 16-year-old girl.

Jennifer martin and her parents have moved to the state of Washington in an attempt to make a new life for themselves after the death of Jennifer's twin sister and Mrs. Martin's subsequent breakdown. Jenny would like to make friends with the high school crowd, but her own feelings of inadequacy and her constant fear of a relapse on her mother's part make her withdrawn and unsociable….

Though dealing with a potentially morbid subject, the author never forgets the audience for whom she...

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Polly Goodwin

Zoa Sherburne has chosen an unusual and difficult theme for ["Jennifer," a] realistic teen-age novel and, handling it with discernment and taste, comes thru with flying colors…. [Primarily] it is the story of Jennifer's own problem—her fears that her mother may not have won her battle [with alcoholism], her reluctance to make friends and invite them to her home.

How Jennifer wins her own victory—surprisingly with her mother's help—and the family draws closer together in love and understanding is a moving story told with warmth and wisdom.

Polly Goodwin, in a review of "Jennifer," in Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of Books, April 5, 1959, p....

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Virginia Kirkus' Service

[In Evening Star, sixteen-year-old] Nancy, a native of an island just off the state of Washington, lives a split existence. Sometimes she is merely Nancy, the pretty daughter of a hotel owner. At other times she is Evening Star, the descendant of an American Indian. Ashamed of her heritage at one moment, proud the next, Nancy fears that she will not find social acceptance. A summer guest and a tentative romance teach Nancy that it is her exotic background which gives her an added dimension of charm and distinction. A romantic story which handles its theme with discretion and sympathy.

A review of "Evening Star," in Virginia Kirkus' Service, Vol. XXVII, No. 23,...

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Ruth Hill Viguers

There is a freshness about [Evening Star] which may be due in part to its setting among the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, pictured in all their evergreen beauty. The characters are drawn with both warmth and a light touch and are such good company it is a pleasure to know them.

Ruth Hill Viguers, in a review of "Evening Star," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, April, 1960, p. 137.

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Grace M. Zahn

Following her sister's wedding, 16-year-old Elizabeth [protagonist of River at Her Feet] expected a dramatic change in her own life. When a 23-year-old celebrity visited a neighbor, Elizabeth interpreted his casual friendship as love. The familiar plot, contrived setting, and breezy style make Elizabeth's ensuing anguish unconvincing. (pp. 83-4)

Grace M. Zahn, in a review of "River at Her Feet," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal, Vol. 11, No. 8, April, 1965, pp. 83-4.

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Christine Myers

Simple, yet meaningful and real, [River at Her Feet] treats the growing pains of sixteen-year-old Elizabeth…. [One] summer brings some self-knowledge, partial independence, romance, and adventure. With sensitivity and liveliness, Zoa Sherburne catches the anxieties, thoughts, and actions of her attractive heroine.

Christine Myers, in a review of "River at Her Feet," in English Journal, Vol. 54, No. 5, May, 1965, p. 461.

(The entire section is 59 words.)

Deirdre Wulf

Girl in the Mirror is the account of how awkward, overweight Ruth Ann copes with the remarriage of her widowed father. It goes almost without saying that the new stepmother, Tracy, is tall, slim, elegant, gracious, as well as a very paragon of patience in her handling of the nasty child. When Ruth Ann's father is killed in a car crash, the two women are thrown together to make a new life for themselves. The events, however, unfold in a vacuum, for we are given no feeling of who these people are, where and how they live. The setting is suburban, colorless, hermetic, as stifling perhaps as the life of an unhappy young girl obsessed with her own physical ugliness. The details of dieting and of meals, their...

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Joan Lear Sher

Ruth Ann's father has always been "the only important person in her world." [In "Girl in the Mirror"], for the first time since her mother died, her closeness to him is strained. Her father's interest in a slim, graceful young nurse drives Ruth Ann into fits of depression—and fits of eating…. Eventually, her father's remarriage and the tragic events that follow force Ruth to take an active interest in life, and to realize that her future is in her own hands. Zoa Sherburne's poignant picture of a girl who has retreated from reality is well drawn, although Ruth Ann sometimes tends to be a parlor analyst, and at other times is incredibly naive.

Joan Lear Sher, in a review of...

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Nancy E. Paige

[Too Bad About the Haines Girl], about a popular, intelligent, "nice" high school girl who becomes pregnant, is well written, peopled by believable, appropriate characters, but it goes no farther than to tell us that an unmarried, pregnant high school girl is a miserable person whose future is in very serious jeopardy…. Whether [Melinda] and her boyfriend will forsake their educational plans to marry and raise an unwanted child, or whether Melinda will, instead, bear the illegitimate child and give it up for adoption, and how both young people will deal with the social, emotional, and other pressures attendant on either decision are matters beyond the scope of the book…. In short, though a competent writer,...

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Phyllis Cohen

Mrs. Sherburne's junior romances have often dealt with complex problems—alcoholism in the family, mental illness, a death in the family, etc. [In Too Bad about the Haines Girl] she tackles the increasingly common problem of the teen-age unwed mother, and it is by far her best book. There have been so many teen-age stories on this theme lately, that it's almost become a cliche rather than the daring subject it was only fifteen years ago. Of all that I've read, though, Too Bad about the Haines Girl comes closest to an honest discussion of the whole problem….

The whole book treats of Lindy's growing panic, acceptance of the situation, and her inability to tell her parents. The story...

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The Booklist

After her father's voluntary disappearance when she is nine years old Angie Scofield uses her ability to see into the future and read the past to support the family, and exploited by both her mother and her manager she forfeits a natural life to make television and personal appearances…. Although the treatment of extrasensory perception is somewhat simplistic, [The Girl Who Knew Tomorrow] is an appealing story with well-done characterizations….

A review of "The Girl Who Knew Tomorrow," in The Booklist, Vol. 66, No. 20, June 15, 1970, p. 1274.

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Marianne Hough

This modern-day girls' story [The Girl Who Knew Tomorrow] achieves nothing and goes nowhere…. Angie's father deserts his wife and two daughters, leaving conflict between Mother and Grandmother (the one who most selflessly cares for sensitive, bewildered Angie). When the girl's special gift becomes known, her lonely mother is influenced by the attentions of a man who persuades the family to exploit her…. Finally, her beloved Grandmother dies, but not before Angie has been transferred mentally for a deathbed conversation in the old woman's room thousands of miles away. The final message to Angie is, of course, to give it all up until her gift can be used only for helping others. If readers could, first of...

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Kirkus Reviews

[Zoa Sherburne, with her novel Leslie,] turns to the problem of drugs and the result is a real pot boiler. Leslie's very first joint involves her as an accessory to a fatal hit-and-run accident and eventually lands her in the hospital when the car's driver Chip … slips LSD in her coffee to keep her from going to the police. Though Leslie's mom is a cardboard model of the well-meaning, ineffectual parent, the grownups' superior wisdom is never in doubt—Tom, mother's new boyfriend, arrives on the scene just in time to provide the guidance of a benevolent father and the kindly juvenile court judge lets Leslie off with a warning—after all, she's basically a good girl. Worse than the heavy dose of moralizing...

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John W. Conner

Adolescent novels about the drug culture are very popular at the moment. I predict that when the drug culture stimulus loses momentum, Leslie will continue to be read. Here, at last, is a novel about the drug scene which embraces the average adolescent with an average adolescent's concerns for family and friends and fair play and virtue….

Leslie is a so-so looking young lady who is pleasantly surprised by the attentions of Chip Carter, a handsome young man who has never noticed Leslie before. Chip's attention does not sweep Leslie off her feet, because his real nature comes to the surface on their first date. Chip sideswipes a pedestrian on their way home and runs from the scene of the...

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The Booklist

[Why Have the Birds Stopped Singing? is an] entertaining time-travel adventure with its share of suspense and romance. Sixteen-year-old Katie, on a tour with schoolmates, unknowingly stops at he Washington State birthplace of her great-great-great grandmother. Katie is epileptic, and when she forgets her medicine and falls, she wakes in her look-alike namesake ancestor's shoes. Although we are told that epilepsy is not inherited, Katie's mid-nineteenth-century double has it; and this unfortunate link, however weak, keeps the plot going through modern Katie's attempts to be understood by ancestor Kathryn's uncle, who keeps her locked up…. [Readers] may sense nagging structural gaps in the tale. However, the...

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The news that her mother is coming home after years in a psychiatric hospital is upsetting to Kathleen Frazier [in Stranger in the House]. She, her younger brother Wimpy, her father, and their housekeeper have developed a comfortable living pattern that has excluded Mrs. Frazier. The housekeeper promises to stay if she is needed, but Kathleen remains uneasy, remembering the trauma of her mother's previous visits. Hoping to keep her free from stress, all but Wimpy treat her as an invalid. By excluding the mother from involvement in daily problems, they inadvertently but effectively exclude her from family membership…. [One day an] incident vividly dramatizes to the family that overprotection is basically a...

(The entire section is 343 words.)