HUGO AND THE PRINCESS NENA by Ella Thorp Ellis

HUGO AND THE PRINCESS NENA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Queer grandfather, queer girl--but apart from the predictable bonding of this odd, mod pair, there are some glimmers of genuine understanding and a real sense of place. The circumstances, though, are pretty outrÉ. Because she's being pursued by a sex fiend, eleven-year-old New Yorker Nena is sent by her divorced, avid-student mother (dad's an alcoholic writer) to stay with her poet grandfather Hugo at a coastal California trailer court. Nena, ""the stare-down champion of West Fourth Street,"" is not really nonplussed by Hugo (whose eccentricities include shedding layers of clothes), and she definitely takes to eating out (and then helping out) at friendly Molly's restaurant. But there are two rubs: fearless Nena, also the cartwheel champion of West Fourth, is terrified of the ocean--to enthusiast Hugo's open disappointment; and she is consumingly jealous of Molly's fat, brainy, surprisingly popular, amazingly stable 13-year-old son Irving--who has a close, mutually supportive relationship with Hugo. Nena's problem, ostensibly, is self-hate, which takes the form of chronic self-pity. Plot-wise, she learns that 80-year-old Hugo is failing, hence Irving's ministrations; she and Irving, now allies, kidnap him from the hated hospital; to give him pleasure before he dies, she sets herself to learn to swim. Problem-wise, she hearkens to Irving's rejoinder, when she attributes her self-pity to fear: ""Everybody in the whole world is afraid. What else is new?"" Plot and problem don't really cohere, but Irving has some potency as a psychological role-model, while the trailer-court backwater-town setting sets up some fresh vibes.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1983
Publisher: Atheneum