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HOMESICK by Jean Fritz


by Jean Fritz & illustrated by Margot Tomes

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1982
ISBN: 0399209336
Publisher: Putnam

Jean Fritz tells us in a preface that this memoir of her childhood years in China is true to real events and feelings, though fictionalized in the sense that exact conversations are invented and details from a longer period telescoped into the two years from October, 1925, when she was ten, to September, 1927, when she and her parents were finally settled at her grandparents' Pennsylvania farm. The poverty of the coolies, her nursemaid's bound feet, and other background details are woven into the more personal story of Jean, a missionary's child, who counts the days until she'll see her American home, repeating to herself Sir Walter Scott's famous "Breathes there the man. . . ." She tells of visits with other American children in China; of a fearful trip when the family was carried by coolies up a steep, slippery mountain path to the town where they would summer, and where Jean's sister would be born and die; and then of the growing disruption and danger as the revolution came nearer. Conversion to communism caused the family's cook to turn rude and cut his long fingernails, and Jean feared for a while that he would poison their food. Then there was the "narrow squeak" (her father's term) when the family, returning home from the summer, was surrounded by hostile coolies with knives; they were saved by local coolies whom Jean's father had befriended. In Pennsylvania at last, Jean worries about whether she 11 pass at school for a "regular" American; but her aunt helps her get a dress and a hair bob, and despite a painful run-in with the hated Palmer method of handwriting, she acquires a boyfriend the first day and comes home euphoric. Fritz's telling never rises above the pedestrian; she does less justice to her own story than to those of the American history figures she has made real and human for children. Nevertheless the combination of author interest and unusual background should assure an interested readership.