of the Center for Children's Books:
Don't Get No Respect
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books..
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So what's the issue with Caroline Cooney? Is it that she doesn't write grimly enough even when addressing serious subjects? That she's too popular? That she writes sequences about the same characters? Why, in short, does this effective and accessible author seem conspicuously absent from lists of respectable and respected writers?
The lady certainly can yarn. Whether it be the soap opera drama of The Face on the Milk Carton and its attendant sequels (there's a fourth apparently coming this spring), the gothic-flavored suspense of the Both Sides of Time books, or the desperate adventure of Flight #116 Is Down!, the plots gallop along pulling readers pell-mell behind them. Perhaps there's some sort of guilt about this technique, as if teens (and adults) were supposed to be beyond that sort of pleasure and ought to be turning pages for more high-minded reasons. Surely enjoyment and compulsion are worthwhile motivations, however, and Cooney delivers those in spades.
Yet she also addresses issues large and small. Burning Up deals with a local history of racism that may implicate the protagonist's family; Twenty Pageants Later addresses the problem of beauty pageants as a measure of achievement in a young woman's life; Driver's Ed examines the ethical implications of the repercussions of a prank. Cooney addresses these issues from the viewpoints of her young protagonists, which means that the focus is their impact rather than their subtleties; she takes the direct route, leaving her readers in no doubt as to the matter on the table.
Her characters are too engaging, however, for the results to be preachy. When usually undemanding Scottie-Anne, in Twenty Pageants Later, calls her long-suffering mother on the phone and uncharacteristically wails, "I can't wear this dress, Mommy," we not only feel for her, we agree with Cooney about the loving heroism of a mother who comes to the rescue. When self-effacing Heidi, in Flight #116 Is Down!, confesses to the emergency personnel that she's on her own, she does so in a paroxysm of apologetic inadequacy: "It was wrong of her to have parents who were out of town." Readers can get traction on these characters, and they wish them well enough to keep reading until well arrives.
Good plots, good company, and good reading. As her fans will tell you, what's not to like?
--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor
Selected Titles by Caroline Cooney
This page was last updated on November 1, 1999.