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If Paula Fox as a white author was criticized for writing of black experience in The Slave Dancer, even though her hero was white, Fitzhugh makes herself even more vulnerable by telling a black family's story from the viewpoints of the two children—Emma (short for Emancipation), about eleven, and Willie, seven.

What's more, the Sheridan parents are far closer to stereotype than were those Fitzhugh created for Harriet the Spy—the Walshes were true to their class, but didn't seem invented to represent it. Here, the father, born and orphaned in the slums, is now a successful lawyer (white maid, East End Avenue apartment) to whom Willie's passion for dancing represents a return to the days when singing and dancing and running around on a stage making a fool of himself were all the honkies let a black man do. Mr. Sheridan is also a male chauvinist, threatened by his bright daughter's interest in law, and his wife is a sympathetic but spinelessly subservient helpmate. But when the characters seem sociological types, the improbabilities become more impeding, and surely a seven-year-old's fixation on career plans (dancing on Broadway or otherwise) and, less importantly, a contemporary kid's devotion to soft-shoe era turns, are hard to credit. However questionable the premise, the Sheridans do fill out a bit as their story becomes one of generation conflict and children's rights, and Emma in particular, faced with the crushing awareness of her mother's weakness and what she perceives (not unrealistically) as her father's hatred, proves a sturdy, uncompromising fighter for Willie's self-determination and her own integrity. Disillusioned by an underground children's Army forming in the city, she organizes a small group of classmates as the nucleus of a sort of consciousness-raising movement. . .for, "as nobody's family is going to change, then we have to change."

All in all, this is more like a muted manifesto than anything else, but Fitzhugh's approach to family dynamics is certainly child centered, and Emma's observant sketches of her parents' and her peers' behavior, along with her own abrasive contributions to the agitation, provide some flashes of life and recognition.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1974
ISBN: 978-0-312-53577-3
Page count: 222pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1974


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