A FORMAL FEELING by Zibby Oneal

A FORMAL FEELING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Still another YA novel about a teenage gift's adjustment after her mother's death--with the somewhat limited virtues of Oneal's unrelieved, even-keel fidelity. Anne's father has remarried barely a year after his wife's sudden death, and Anne, home from boarding school for Christmas, resents the stranger and the changes from her mother's ways. Dory, who has been secretary of her new husband's university department for as long as Anne can remember, is plump and graying and not up to the family's presumed intellectual level. ""This family always sounds like books,"" Dory complains cheerfully. ""Half the time I don't know what they're talking about."" Anne goes around in a frozen state, which worries her older brother Spencer; she has no feeling for the boy she dated last summer; she is blocked on an English paper on Heart of Darkness (""a journey we all make someday,"" as her father has said about Dante's); she resists unpleasant perceptions as, we're shown, she always has; and she persists at home in bringing up references to her mother's virtues. But small--very small--hints of a less perfect family life with mother begin to surface: How did her father feel about his first wife's small Christmas trees, when he always wanted a taller one? Or about the pier glass table he always bumped with the closet door? Finally, a solitary ice-skating accident triggers memories of an earlier Christmas when her mother left the family, needing ""space to think""; and an unworn sweater which her mother, characteristically, had chosen for her without considering Anne's taste, brings forth Anne's realization that she has linked rejection of the sweater with guilt for her mother's death. And so we see Anne through the stages (""First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--"") of Emily Dickenson's poem, which also supplies the title. Like Carrie's derangement in Oneal's The Language of Goldfish (1980), this is projected convincingly and without melodrama, but perhaps a little too cautiously so, for readers never feel the full force of Anne's agonizing recognitions.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Viking