Marijane (Agnes) Meaker (1927-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
(Ann Aldrich, Mary James, M. E. Kerr,
M. J. Meaker, Vin Packer)
Born 1927, in Auburn, NY; Education: University of Missouri, Columbia, B.A., 1949.
Agent—Eugene Winick, McIntosh & Otis, Inc., 475 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10017.
Writer. E. P. Dutton (publisher), New York, NY, assistant file clerk, 1949-50; freelance writer, 1949—. Volunteer writing teacher at Commercial Manhattan Central High, 1968. Founding member, Ashawagh Hall Writers' Workshop, Ashawagh, NY, 1982.
PEN, Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Maxi Award, Media and Methods magazine, 1974, for Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! Children's Spring Book Festival honor book, Washington Post Book World, and Children's Book of the Year designation, Child Study Association, both 1973, both for If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?; Christopher Award, and Book of the Year Award, School Library Journal, both 1978, and named one of the Best Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library, 1980 and 1981, all for Gentlehands; Golden Kite Award, Society of Children's Book Writers, 1981, for Little Little; Emphasis on Reading Award, 1985, for Him She Loves?; Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist, 1990, for Fell Back; California Young Reader Medal, 1992, for Night Kites; Margaret A. Edwards Award, American Library Association, for body of work, 1993; National Council of Teachers of English Best Young Adult Novels of the '90s pick, Best Book Honor award, Michigan Library Association, 1994, and Horn Book Fanfare Honor book, 1995, all for Deliver Us from Evie; Knickerbocker Lifetime Achievement Award, New York State Library Association, 1999; Assembly on Literature for Adolescents Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age listee, 2002, and Oklahoma Library Association Young Adult Book Award nominee, 2003, both for Slap Your Sides. Several books published under the pseudonym M. E. Kerr were named Notable Books of the Year and Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association, Outstanding Books of the Year by the New York Times, and Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal.
FOR YOUNG ADULTS; UNDER PSEUDONYM M. E. KERR, EXCEPT AS NOTED
Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, Harper (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted, 2002.
If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
The Son of Someone Famous, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.
Is That You, Miss Blue?, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
Love Is a Missing Person, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
I'll Love You When You're More like Me, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
Gentlehands, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
Little Little, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.
What I Really Think of You, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel (autobiography), Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
Him She Loves?, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
I Stay Near You: 1 Story in 3, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
Night Kites, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
Fell (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1987.
Fell Back (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1989.
(Under pseudonym Mary James) Shoebag, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.
Fell Down (also see below), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Linger, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Deliver Us from Evie, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
(Under pseudonym Mary James) Frankenlouse, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
"Hello," I Lied, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Blood on the Forehead: What I Know about Writing (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
What Became of Her?, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Slap Your Sides, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
The Book of Fell (contains Fell, Fell Back, and Fell Down), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, Harper Collins (New York, NY), 2003.
Your Eyes in Stars, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor, under pseudonym M. E. Kerr to Sixteen, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Delacorte, 1984; Vissions, edited by Gallo, 1984; Connections, edited by Gallo, 1989; Scholastic Scope, 1989, 1995; Funny You Should Ask, edited by Gallo, 1992; Am I Blue?, edited by Marion Dane Bauer, 1993; No Easy Answers, edited by Gallo, 1997; Bad Behavior, edited by Mary Higgins Clark; Family Secrets, edited by Linda Rowe Fraustino, 1999; Stay True, edited by Marilyn Singer, 1999; I Believe in Water, edited by Singer, 2000; On the Fringe, edited by Gallo, 2001; Shattered, edited by Jenifer Armstrong, 2003; and Hearing Flower, edited by Singer, 2004.
Meaker's manuscripts as M. E. Kerr are housed at the Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota.
(Under name M. J. Meaker) Hometown, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
Game of Survival, New American Library (New York, NY), 1968.
Shockproof Sydney Skate, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1972, reprinted, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 2002.
ADULT FICTION; UNDER PSEUDONYM VIN PACKER
Dark Intruder, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1952.
Spring Fire, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1952.
Look Back to Love, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1953.
Come Destroy Me, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1954.
Whisper His Sin, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1954.
The Thrill Kids, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1955.
Dark Don't Catch Me, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1956.
The Young and Violent, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1956.
Three-Day Terror, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1957.
The Evil Friendship, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1958.
5:45 to Suburbia, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1958.
The Twisted Ones, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1959.
The Damnation of Adam Blessing, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1961.
The Girl on the Best-seller List, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1961.
Something in the Shadows, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1961.
Intimate Victims, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1962.
Alone at Night, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1963.
The Hare in March, New American Library (New York, NY), 1967.
Don't Rely on Gemini, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1969.
ADULT NONFICTION; UNDER PSEUDONYM ANN ALDRICH,
EXCEPT AS NOTED
We Walk Alone, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1955.
We Too Must Love, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1958.
Carol, in a Thousand Cities, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1960.
We Two Won't Last, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1963.
(Under name M. J. Meaker) Sudden Endings, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964, published under pseudonym Vin Packer, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1964.
Take a Lesbian to Lunch, MacFadden-Bartell, 1972.
Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties, Cleis Press, 2003.
Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! was broadcast as a television special by Learning Corporation of America, 1978; and was also optioned for film. If I Love You Am I Trapped Forever? was released as an audio cassette by Random House, 1979. Fell was made into a sound recording in 1995 and Gentlehands in 1996.
Marijane Meaker, who writes for young adults almost exclusively as M. E. Kerr, is among the most popular and highly respected authors of American juvenile literature. Called "one of the grand masters of young adult fiction," by Lois Metzger in the New York Times Book Review, Meaker is an original writer whose novels Deliver Us from Evie and Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! are acknowledged as landmarks of young adult literature. In addition to addressing serious issues, Meaker is known for creating coming-of-age stories and romances in which adolescent protagonists—male and female, straight and gay—face change, deal with the difficulties of relationships, and struggle to take charge of their own lives.
Often celebrated for her understanding of human nature in general and young adults in particular, Meaker is lauded for the color and variety of her characterizations, which often feature offbeat or bizarre figures, as well as for her well-rounded portrayals of adults, a quality considered unusual in books for a teenage audience. Praised as a keen social observer, she often uses a satiric, ironic tone to describe contemporary American morals and mores, which she sees as filled with hypocrisy and corruption. Her books expose inhumanity and injustice in such areas as small-town life and organized religion while encouraging young readers to look beyond racial, cultural, and sexual stereotypes. Addressing such issues as mental illness, physical disability, substance abuse, anti-Semitism, and AIDS as well as the pain of adolescence, Meaker often structures her stories as first-person narratives relayed in a spare, direct prose style; the author also regularly includes quotations from sources such as the Bible, Shakespeare, and contemporary rock songs. Anita Silvey wrote in Horn Book that Meaker "is one of the few young adult writers who can take a subject that affects teenagers' lives, can say something important to young readers about it, and can craft what is first and foremost a good story, without preaching and without histrionics." In her Presenting M. E. Kerr, Aileen Pace Nilsen described the author as "in a class by herself. Not often does someone come along who is a true teacher and a good writer. M. E. Kerr is both."
Much of Meaker's work as a writer of young adult literature is drawn from her own experience; as she wrote in her autobiography Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel, "whenever you find a little smart-mouth, tomboy kid in any of my books, you have found me from long ago." Born in Auburn, New York, a small town near Rochester, the author "grew up always wanting to be a writer," as she related in her essay in Something about the Author Autobiography Series. Her father Ellis Meaker, a mayonnaise manufacturer for Ivanhoe Foods, had a wide range of tastes in reading that he passed on to his daughter; Meaker was also influenced by the English teachers who encouraged her as well as the librarians "who," as she noted in SAAS, "had to pull me out of the stacks at closing time."
Despite the influences of teachers and librarians, Meaker most often credits her mother, Ida Meaker, for her decision to become a writer. The novelist recalled that her mother, a terrific gossip, "would begin nearly every conversation the same way: 'Wait till you hear this!' Even today, when I'm finished with a book and sifting through ideas for a new one, I ask myself: Is the idea a 'wait till you hear this'?"
As a junior in high school, Meaker started submitting romance stories with a wartime setting to popular women's magazines under the name Eric Ranthram McKay, a pseudonym chosen because her father's initials were E. R. M. Her stories, Meaker recalled in Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, "came back like boomerangs, with printed rejection slips attached. Sometimes these rejection slips had a 'sorry' penciled across them, or a 'try again.' These I cherished, and saved and used to buoy my spirits as I began new stories, and kept the old ones circulating."
As an adolescent, Meaker realized that she was a lesbian. As she wrote in her foreword to Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community, she was sent by her parents to ballet class to see if her homosexuality "could be corrected." She was also sent to Stuart Hall, an Episcopal boarding school for girls in Staunton, Virginia. In her foreword to Hearing Us Out, Meaker remembered, "When my mother finally did come to terms with me and with terms ('I hate that word lesbian and I'll never call you one!'), she asked that there be one promise: 'Never bring any of them to the house! … Around here I couldn't hold my head up if it ever got out.'" As Meaker recalled, "My father could never even speak about it. So formed by what others thought, … both my parents missed the chance to know my warm and loving friends—as well as to know me better."
At Stuart Hall Meaker became a rebel; in her senior year, she was expelled for throwing darts at pictures of faculty members before her mother arranged her reinstatement with a bishop. In Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, she described herself during her Stuart Hall years as "the out-of-line black sheep," but admitted that at the boarding school "there was something stimulating and amusing, and very like life, as I came to know it, in its regulated, intense, dutiful and peculiar ambiance."
After graduation, Meaker went to Vermont Junior College, where she edited the school newspaper, the first publication to print one of her stories. In 1946 she transferred to the University of Missouri, where she initially majored in journalism; Meaker switched to the English program "partly because," as she noted in SAAS, "I failed Economics, which one had to pass to get into J-School, and partly because I realized I didn't want anything to do with writing fact. I wanted to make up my own facts."
After graduation in 1949, she moved to New York City, began clerking at the E. P. Dutton publishing company, while also continuing to send out stories. "I wrote anything and everything in an effort to get published," she admitted in Me, Me, Me, Me, Me. "I wrote confession stories, articles, 'slick' stories for the women's magazines, poetry, and fillers."
Finally gaining some publicity for her writing and self-promotion efforts, Meaker was offered the chance to write for the Fawcett paperback series Gold Medal Books, and began publishing mysteries and thrillers for adults under the names Vin Packer and Ann Aldrich. While writing adult novels and nonfiction titles, she also began taking classes in psychology, child psychology, sociology, and anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. In 1964, she published Sudden Endings, a nonfiction book on suicide, as M. J. Meaker; in 1972, she published a successful adult novel titled Shockproof Sydney Skate, a story featuring an adolescent protagonist, as Marijane Meaker. At the urging of a friend, she started to consider writing for the young-adult market.
In 1968, Meaker began volunteering as part of an experimental program in New York City where writers went into high schools one day a month in order to interest students in writing. In one of her classes, she met an overweight African-American girl named Tiny who, Meaker recalled in SAAS, "wrote some really grotesque stories, about things like a woman going swimming and accidentally swallowing strange eggs in the water, and giving birth to red snakes .… One day her mother appeared, complaining that … I was encouraging Tiny to write 'weird.'" In their discussion, Meaker learned that Tiny's mother was, the author claimed, "an ardent do-gooder" who left her daughter alone while she went out to do community service. "In other words," Meaker continued, "while Tiny's mom was putting out the fire in the house across the street, her own house was on fire. I was thinking a lot about this.' The result was Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, which Meaker published under the pen name M. E. Kerr, a play on her last name.
Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! is the story of an obese teenager whose mother is so absorbed in her own work with drug addicts that she fails to notice her daughter; the novel also concerns Dinky's relationship with P. John, a sympathetic classmate who shares a weight problem, and P. John's relationship with his father, whose liberal values have caused the boy to adopt an ultra-conservative view. At the conclusion of the novel, Dinky grabs her mother's attention by inscribing the title legend on the wall of the building in which her mother is receiving the Good Samaritan Award. Meaker's "funny/sad first novel shoots straight from the hip," wrote Pamela D. Pollack in School Library Journal, and dubbed the work "a totally affecting literary experience." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Dale Carlson called the book "a brilliantly funny," "timely, compelling, and entertaining novel."
After this first success the forty-something writer began to rethink the direction of her career. As she wrote in SAAS, "As I looked back on my life, things seemed funnier to me than they used to. I seemed funnier to me than I used to, and so did a lot of what I 'suffered.' Miraculously, as I sat down to make notes for possible future stories, things that happened to me long ago came back clear as a bell, and ringing, and making me smile and shake my head as I realized I had stories in me about me."
Meaker has since produced a succession of young-adult novels about adolescents who survive their situations while learning about the larger world. In Is That You, Miss Blue? she tackles one of her most prominent subjects, religion, in the context of a boarding school story. The title character is a religious mystic who teaches science at an Episcopal boarding school in Virginia; Miss Blue, an inspired teacher, becomes an object of ridicule—and, eventually, a campaign for dismissal—because her intense religious experiences are considered inappropriate by both school authorities and some students. The narrator, fifteen-year-old Flanders Brown, moves from mocking Miss Blue to respecting her former teacher, who suffers a mental breakdown as the result of the pressure. "This is a sophisticated book," wrote Zena Sutherland in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "one that demands understanding from its readers and can, at the same time, lead them toward understanding." In Horn Book, Mary M. Burns praised the novel as "wryly funny," while in Best Sellers, a reviewer wrote that Meaker "can dig deep and scurry around in the loneliest, saddest corners of a reader's soul and always come up with a perceptive thought for teenagers to mull over."
Also focusing on religion, What I Really Think of You explores the world of fundamentalist preachers and its effect on the children of these ministers, and also builds on the connection between organized religion and business. The story describes how Opal and Jesse, two teenage PKs, or preacher's kids, deal with the professions of their fathers—one a rich television star and the other a poor Pentecostal minister—and questions of faith while developing a tentative relationship. At the end of the novel, Opal receives the gift of tongues, even after some earlier ambivalence, and finds love with Jesse's religious older brother; her new gift also brings her celebrity status when she is filmed by a television crew in her father's church. What I Really Think of You was criticized for making fun of religion, as well as for the inconsistency of Opal's character. However, as Marilyn Kaye wrote in the New York Times Book Review, the novel "has integrity. It's hard to believe that a novelist could indulge in such concepts as being 'slain in the spirit,' waiting for 'The Rapture,' faith healing and speaking in tongues without either proselytizing or mocking them—but glory be, M. E. Kerr has done both."
I'll Love You When You're More like Me focuses on Sabra St. Amour, a teenage soap opera star, and Wally Witherspoon, the son of a mortician, who meet while Sabra is vacationing in Wally's Long Island hometown. The teens' common bond is heightened by their shared efforts to deal with dominating parents. During the course of the story, Wally's friend Charlie comes out as a gay teen; at the end of the novel, he agrees to take Wally's place at the funeral home, and all three teenagers begin to break free of parental expectations. A critic in Kirkus Reviews noted that the author's "talent for combining the representative and the bizarre has never been so evident as in this inspired cast which seems to write its own story." In School Library Journal, Lillian M. Gerhardt praised Meaker for producing "superb serio-comic writing … that touches on nothing outside the ken or the conversation of young teens."
Meaker's teen novel Gentlehands is considered one of the most controversial books published under her Kerr pseudonym. The story describes the relationship between sixteen-year-old Buddy Boyle, a lower-middle-class boy, and Skye Pennington, a rich and beautiful girl; the larger story concerns Buddy's discovery that his grandfather, the cultured Frank Trenker, is actually a Nazi officer who murdered Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz. Meaker includes pointed social commentary directed at the tiny Long Island village in which the story takes place, as well as strong detail about Trenker's history as an SS officer; consequently, the novel provoked some negative reactions from both Jewish groups and critics of young-adult literature. In an interview with Jim Roginski for Behind the Covers, Volume II, Meaker noted that "I wanted to provoke the idea of what if you meet a nice guy, a really nice man, and what if you find out that in his past he wasn't such a nice man? How would you feel?"
Discussing Gentlehands in Interracial Books for Children, Ruth Charnes noted that, despite the author's intent, it is inappropriate "to give equal weight to the question of morality raised by the Holocaust and to an unrealistic teenage romance." More positive about the novel, Geraldine DeLuca wrote of Gentlehands in a review for the Lion and the Unicorn that Meaker "has illuminated a painful historical issue, sparing us no detail and yet avoiding sensationalism," although the book suffers because "it depends so much on exaggeration and stereotype." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Bradford cited the book as "important and useful as an introduction to the grotesque character of the Nazi period, as well as to the paradoxes that exist in the heart of man," while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer described the book as "a marvel of understatement, diamond insights, irony, and compassion."
In Little Little Meaker describes the developing relationship of teens Little Little La Belle, a sophisticated "little person" who is the daughter of her town's leading family, and Sydney Cinnamon, a hunchbacked dwarf abandoned at birth. Little Little's mother wants her to marry the famous but shallow midget evangelist Little Lion, but a party celebrating Little Little's eighteenth birthday exposes Little Lion's true nature as well as the growing romance between Little Little and Sydney. "This is a story about courage and tolerance and growing up without growing bigger," wrote Suzanne Freeman in the Washington Post Book World. In the ALAN Review, Norma Bagnall called the novel "an outrageously sad-funny book with humor and pathos consistently maintained throughout" that represents "M. E. Kerr at her very best."
With her "Fell" series of young adult novels—Fell, Fell Back, and Fell Down—Meaker combines her interest in detective fiction with some of her most prominent themes, including betrayal, class conflict, and the politics and prejudices that can be found in prep schools. The series, which combines romance, mystery, and humor, revolves around John Fell, a policeman's son from Seaville, New York. A sensitive, witty gourmet cook who possesses a talent for detection as well as a sharp eye for phoniness, Fell is drawn into the world of privilege when he is asked to impersonate the son of a rich neighbor at the elite Gardner school. After he is asked to join a secret campus society called the Seven, he learns about the intrigue and tyranny underlying the school and discovers that his benefactor has been arrested for selling nuclear secrets. In a review of the novel for Booklist, Hazel Rochman claimed, "Not since Gentlehands has Kerr so poignantly combined a story of romance, mystery, and wit with serious implications of class conflict and personal betrayal."
In Fell Back Fell searches for the cause of the suicide of one of his fellow members in the Sevens club and becomes involved in the drug scene and a love affair as well as with a murder. Reviewers gave the novel a mixed reception, a Publishers Weekly critic noting that "the spark that ignited Fell seems to have fizzled out." Marjorie Lewis pointed out in School Library Journal that despite the plot's drawbacks "Fell's charm is considerable, and readers will like him and his insecurities."
Fell Down describes how Fell, who has dropped out of Gardner, returns to the newly coed school to find April, the missing sister of his longtime girlfriend Delia; he soon becomes embroiled in a mystery that spans two generations and involves kidnaping and murder. Fell Down is unique among the volumes in the series in that it includes two narrators, Fell and "the Mouth," a ventriloquist who tells his story through the voice of his dummy. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman called the novel "a brilliant mystery, one that will have genre fans fitting the pieces together for days," while Christy Tyson wrote in Voice of Youth Advocates that Meaker's "mastery at character development is superb, and few can top her for style that can convey both wit and heartache." The "Fell" series was released as a single volume in 2001 under the title The Books of Fell.
Linger takes place in the small town of Berryville, Pennsylvania rather than in Meaker's usual Long Island or upstate New York settings. The book's title refers to a popular restaurant owned by Ned Dunlinger, a powerful pillar of the community. The family of sixteen-year-old Gary Peel, like many of the Berryville residents, considers the Dunlingers akin to royalty; Gary's father manages Linger, his mother does the books, and Gary and his older brother Bobby wait tables. After an argument with Ned Dunlinger over the latter's efforts to shut down a competing Mexican restaurant, Bobby quits Linger, joins the army, and is sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation: Desert Storm. The novel includes excerpts from Bobby's Gulf War journal. When Bobby returns home as a hero after being wounded by friendly fire, his happiness quickly fades when injured army buddy Sanchez is openly treated with contempt by the manipulative Ned. Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Munat praised Linger as "a sensitive and provocative book that reconstructs the emotional climate in the U. S. during the Gulf War," while a Kirkus Reviews critic praised the novel as "rich with varied characters and points of view" and with "plenty of thought-provoking parallels."
Another novel that reflects the microcosm of small-town life, What Became of Her is narrated by sixteen-year-old E. C. Tobbit. The book focuses on Rosalind Slaymaster, once looked down on due to her job in the local funeral parlor but recently returned to town as a wealthy woman. E. C. and his friend Neal establish a friendship with Slaymaster's adopted daughter, Julie, and through this friendship E. C. discovers the key to Slaymaster's rise in affluence and the past that has driven her need for revenge. Enhanced by the author's "usual witty writing style," What Became of Her was praised by School Library Journal contributor Susie Paige for its "eerily realistic" portrait of small-town life, "right down to the gossip, cruelty, fear, and insecurity." Frances Bradburn wrote in Booklist that Meaker's "unusual, haunting book will hold readers until the final page," while in Publishers Weekly a critic wrote that, "with a masterful, invisible hand," the author "quietly adds layers of meaning to a seductive, psychologically riveting story."
Although Meaker includes gay characters in several of her novels, in Deliver Us from Evie and "Hello," I Lied they become the focus. In Deliver Us from Evie a Missouri farm family's eighteen-year-old daughter, Evie Burman, is a talented mechanic who looks like the young Elvis Presley. Problems arise when she falls in love with Patsy Duff, the attractive daughter of the local banker. Narrator Parr, Evie's youngest brother, describes the varied reactions to Evie's coming out—mostly hostile and uncertain with some acceptance—as well as his own romance with Angel Kidder, a religious but hot-blooded teen. The Mississippi floods of 1993 provides a strong symbol; the rising waters are interpreted by some as God's warning to Evie and Patsy, but also as their means of escaping to New York City. Writing in the Wilson Library Bulletin, Cathi Dunn MacRae noted Meaker's pioneering effort in "tackling the female butch stereotype," while Christine Jenkins described the book in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books as "vintage Kerr." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Lois Metzger concluded that Deliver Us from Evie is "so original, fresh and fiery, you'd think that M. E. Kerr … was just now getting started."
"Hello," I Lied also addresses issues of homosexuality and identity. The story is told by seventeen-year-old Lang Penner, a young man who has already come out to his mother but is concerned about how his friends will react. Lang and his mom are living in the Hamptons for the summer, where his mother is working as housekeeper for reclusive rock star Ben Nevada. Lang's lover, Alex, presses him to live openly as a gay man; however, Lang finds himself attracted to Huguette, a young French woman who is visiting Nevada. By summer's end Lang has learned about the complexities of relationships and the fluid nature of identity; in addition, he has acquired sweet memories of "the summer that I loved a girl." Writing in Horn Book, Roger Sutton commented that, "Gay themes in young adult literature have been pressing beyond the standard coming-out story. And, as usual, M. E. Kerr is right out in front." According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Hello," I Lied "successfully challenges readers' assumptions, breaking them down to offer more hopeful, affirming ideas about love and ruth."
In addition to her teen novels, Meaker has also written several books for young readers that focus on less-personal matters. Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers takes place at a Long Island animal shelter run by Mrs. Splinter, and describes life from the point of view of the dogs, cats, and other critters that have taken up residence there. Despite its focus on the animals' hopes of finding a home in a loving adoption, Meaker's book was described by School Library Journal contributor Pam Spencer as "light" and "upbeat," and a Kirkus contributor wrote that the goings-on at the busy shelter "should keep young animal lovers happy and occupied." Writing that the author levens "some poignant moments with slapstick comedy," a Publishers Weekly reviewer predicted that the animated animal cast of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers will "wiggle, wag and worm their way into readers' hearts."
In the autobiography Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel, Meaker describes her life from the age of fifteen until the publication of her first story in 1951. The result of many letters the author has received from readers, the book presents autobiographical vignettes as well as the author's explanations of the people and experiences that influenced her books. Paul A. Caron, writing in Best Sellers stated that Meaker has written a "fascinating, yet timeless look at herself and others, which will not only delight her fans, but will no doubt increase their number." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Joyce Milton noted, "Kerr unveils a deliciously wicked sense of humor," and provides readers with "a satisfying if brief encounter with a humorist whose delight in poking fun at the trappings of authority is unmarred by either self-hatred or pettiness toward others." In Horn Book, Nancy C. Hammond explained that Meaker "confesses to being the 'smartmouth' tomboys populating many of her novels. And she is quite as entertaining as they are. Incisive, witty, and immediate, the book is vintage M. E. Kerr."
In addition to her works as M. E. Kerr, Meaker has written for young people under the name Mary James. Shoebag, a parody of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis that satirizes both the human and roach worlds, describes a cockroach who turns into a boy. At school, Shoebag, who has been named for the site of his birth, makes friends with Gregor Samson, a boy who also used to be a cockroach. When Gregor decides to remain human, he grants Shoebag his ability to revert back to roach form, and Shoebag is happily reunited with his family. A Kirkus reviewer called Shoebag "a highly original story crammed with clever detail, action, insight, and humor, all combined with impeccable logic and begging to be shared." In Frankenlouse, fourteen-year-old Nick, the son of a general who is also his commanding officer in military school, convinces his dad that he is an artist. Throughout the story, Nick creates a cartoon strip featuring a book louse from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein who devours a whole collection of classic books—all except for those starting with the letter "m." Elizabeth S. Watson in Horn Book commented that in a story that is "not as complicated as it sounds, Meaker "encourage[s] some creative thinking" with this "funny and thought-provoking" read.
Of her career as a young-adult writer, Meaker wrote in SAAS: "When I write for young adults I know they're still wrestling with very important problems like winning and losing, not feeling accepted or accepting, prejudice, love—all the things adults ultimately get hardened to, and forgetful of. I know my audience hasn't yet made up their minds about everything, that they're still vulnerable and open to suggestion and able to change their minds .… Give me that kind of an audience any day!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Behind the Covers, Volume II, Libraries Unlimited, 1989, pp. 161-176.
Chevalier, Tracy, editor, Twentieth Century Children's Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1989.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 29, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 12, 1980, Volume 35, 1985.
Crawford, Elizabeth D., and Doris de Montreville, Fourth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1978.
Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen, Literature for Today's Young Adults, Scott, Foresman, 1980, 2nd edition, 1985.
Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community, edited by Roger Sutton, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
Kerr, M. E., Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace, Presenting M. E. Kerr, Twayne, 1986.
Rees, David, Painted Desert, Green Shade: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young Adults, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1984.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
ALAN Review, fall, 1981, Norma Bagnall, review of Little Little, p. 21; fall, 1997.
Best Sellers, May, 1975, Mrs. John G. Gray, review of Is That You, Miss Blue?, p. 49; June, 1983, Paul A. Caron, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel, p. 110.
Booklist, June 1, 1987, Hazel Rochman, review of Fell, pp. 1515-1516; September 15, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of Fell Down, p. 135; September 15, 1994, p. 125; April 15, 1997, p. 1423; April, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Blood on the Forehead: What I Know about Writing, p. 1309; June 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Deliver Us from Evie, p. 1875, and M. E. Kerr, "A Writer's Life," p. 1878; July, 2000, Frances Bradburn, review of What Became of Her, p. 2018; October 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 331; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 237.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1975, Zena Sutherland, review of Is That You, Miss Blue?, p. 179; November, 1975, Zena Sutherland, review of Love Is a Missing Person, p. 48; March, 1990, Robert Strang, review of Shoebag, p. 164; September, 1993, Roger Sutton, review of Linger, p. 14; December, 1994, Christine Jenkins, review of Deliver Us from Evie, pp. 132-133; June, 1998, p. 366; November, 2003, Deborah Stevenson, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 110.
English Journal, December, 1975, Paul Janeczko, interview with Kerr.
Growing Point, November, 1973, Margery Fisher, review of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, p. 2263.
Horn Book, August, 1975, Mary M. Burns, review of Is That You, Miss Blue?, p. 365; June, 1977, Mary Kingsbury, "The Why of People: The Novels of M. E. Kerr," pp. 288-295; August, 1983, Nancy A. Hammond, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, p. 462; September-October, 1986, Anita Silvey, review of Night Kites, p. 597; January-February, 1995, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Frankenlouse, pp. 62-63; July-August, 1997, Roger Sutton, review of "Hello," I Lied, pp. 457-458; May, 2000, review of What Became of Her, p. 316; November-December, 2001, Lauren Adams, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 751.
Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 9, number 8, 1978, Ruth Charnes, review of Gentlehands, p. 18.
Junior Bookshelf, June, 1991, Marcus Crouch, review of Shoebag, p. 114.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1977, review of I'll Love You When You're More like Me, p. 673; February 15, 1990, review of Shoebag, p. 264; July 1, 1993, review of Linger, pp. 861-862; November 15, 1994, p. 1533; March 15, 1998, p. 405; October 1, 2003, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 1225.
Kliatt, March, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of What Became of Her, p. 16; March, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 24.
Lambda Book Report, September, 1997, Nancy Garden, review of "Hello," I Lied, p. 37; August-September, 2003, Ann Bannon, interview with Meaker, p. 13.
Lion and the Unicorn, winter, 1979-80, Geraldine DeLuca, "Taking True Risks: Controversial Issues in New Young Adult Novels," pp. 125-148.
New York Times Book Review, February 11, 1973, Dale Carlson, review of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, p. 8; October 19, 1975, Alix Nelson, review of Love Is a Missing Person, p. 10; April 30, 1978, Richard Bradford, "The Nazi Legacy: Understanding History," p. 30; September 12, 1982, Marilyn Kaye, review of What I Really Think of You, pp. 49-50; May 22, 1983, Joyce Milton, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, p. 39; April 13, 1986, Audrey B. Eaglen, review of Night Kites, p. 30; April 9, 1995, Lois Metzger, review of Deliver Us from Evie, P. 25.
Publishers Weekly, June 30, 1975, review of Love Is a Missing Person, p. 58; January 9, 1978, review of Gentlehands, p. 81; September 29, 1989, review of Fell Back, p. 70; March 31, 1997, review of "Hello," I Lied, p. 75; May 11, 1998, review of Blood on the Forehead, p. 69; April 24, 2000, review of What Became of Her, p. 92; November 3, 2003, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 75.
School Library Journal, December, 1972, Pamela D. Pollack, review of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, p. 67; October, 1977, Lillian N. Gerhardt, review of I'll Love You When You're More like Me, pp. 124-25; September, 1986, Jennifer FitzGerald, "Challenging the Pressure to Conform: Byars and Kerr," pp. 46-47; September, 1989, Marjorie Lewis, review of Fell Back, pp. 272-273; June, 1997, p. 120; May, 1998, pp. 156-157; July, 2000, Susie Paige, review of What Became of Her, p. 106; October, 2003, Pam Spencer, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 169; November, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, p. 82.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1987, Christy Tyson, review of Fell, p. 202; December, 1991, Christy Tyson, review of Fell Down, pp. 313-314; August, 1993, Florence H. Munat, review of Linger, p. 153; October, 1994, Dorothy M. Broderick, review of Deliver Us from Evie, p. 208.
Washington Post Book World, May 10, 1981, Susanne Freeman, "Growing up in a Small World," p. 15; June 10, 1990, p. 10.
Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1994, Cathi Dunn MacRae, review of Deliver Us from Evie, pp. 116-117.
M. E. Kerr and Mary James Web site, http://www.mekerr.com (May 3, 2005).
Teenreads.com, http://www.teenreads.com/ (2003), interview with M. E. Kerr.
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