Holland, Isabelle

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Isabelle Holland


Born June 16, 1920, in Basel, Switzerland; died February 9, 2002, in New York, NY; daughter of Philip (a U.S. Foreign Service officer) and Corabelle (Anderson) Holland. Education: Attended University of Liverpool for two years; Tulane University of Louisiana, B.A., 1942. Politics: Independent. Religion: Christian.


Author of novels for adults and young adults, books for juveniles, and short stories. Worked for various magazines, including McCall's, prior to 1956; Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, publicity director, 1956-60; J. B. Lippincott Co., New York, NY, publicity director, 1960-66; Harper's, New York, NY, assistant to publisher, 1967-68; G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, NY, publicity director, 1968-69.



Cecily, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1967.

Amanda's Choice, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1970.

The Man without a Face, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1972.

The Mystery of Castle Rinaldi, Xerox (Middletown, CT), 1972.

Heads You Win, Tails I Lose, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1973.

Journey for Three, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1975.

Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1975, published as Ask No Questions, Macdonald and Jane's (London, England), 1978.

Alan and the Animal Kingdom, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1977.

Hitchhike, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1977.

Dinah and the Green Fat Kingdom, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1978.

Now Is Not Too Late, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1980.

Summer of My First Love, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1981.

Abbie's God Book, illustrated by James McLaughlin, Westminster (Philadelphia, PA), 1982.

A Horse Named Peaceable, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1982.

After the First Love, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1983.

The Empty House, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1983.

God, Mrs. Muskrat, and Aunt Dot, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, Westminster (Philadelphia, PA), 1983.

Perdita, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983.

Kevin's Hat, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1984.

Green Andrew Green, Westminster (Philadelphia, PA), 1984.

The Island, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1984.

Jennie Kiss'd Me, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1985.

Henry and Grudge, Walker (New York, NY), 1986.

The Christmas Cat, illustrated by Kathy Mitchell, Golden Books (New York, NY), 1987.

Love and the Genetic Factor, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1987.

Toby the Splendid, Walker (New York, NY), 1987.

Thief, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1988.

The Easter Donkey, Golden (New York, NY), 1989.

The Journey Home, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.

The Unfrightened Dark, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.

The House in the Woods, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.

The Search, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1991.

Behind the Lines, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

The Promised Land, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

Paperboy, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.


Kilgaren, Weybright (New York, NY), 1974.

Trelawny, Weybright (New York, NY), 1974.

Moncrieff, Weybright (New York, NY), 1975.

Darcourt, Weybright (New York, NY), 1976.

Grenelle, Rawson Wade (New York, NY), 1976.

The DeMaury Papers, Rawson Wade (New York, NY), 1977.

Tower Abbey, Rawson Wade (New York, NY), 1978.

The Marchington Papers, Rawson Wade (New York, NY), 1980.

Counterpoint, Rawson Wade (New York, NY), 1980.

The Lost Madonna, Rawson Wade (New York, NY), 1981.

A Death at St. Anselm's, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.

Flight of the Archangel, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.

A Lover Scorned, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1986.

Bump in the Night, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1988.

A Fatal Advent, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989.

The Long Search, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.

Love and Inheritance, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.

Family Trust, NAL/Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.

Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Collier's and Country Gentleman. Author of works under name Francesca Hunt.

Holland's papers are housed in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and in the deGrummond Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg.


The Man without a Face was adapted by Malcolm MacRury into a film directed by and starring Mel Gibson and released by Warner Bros. in 1993. Bump in the Night was adapted by Christoper Lofton into a television film directed by Karen Arthur and broadcast in 1991.


Isabelle Holland was an internationally known author of novels for young people as well as fiction for adults. In her literature for teenagers, including The Man without a Face and Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, Holland realistically portrayed the complicated and complex problems experienced by many modern adolescents. Many reviewers voiced the opinion that she handled these issues with an uncommon degree of understanding, respect, and sensitivity. While she frequently dealt with gripping and emotional situations, Holland tempered the intensity of her chosen topic with a subtle sense of humor and a strong feeling of hope. In Writers for Young Adults, Lucy Rollin stated that, "Despite the variety of their subject matter, Holland's books all have in common strong characterizations, fast-paced plots, and a concern with inner life."

As daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Holland lived in several foreign cities while she was growing up. Born in Basel, Switzerland, she moved with her family to Guatemala City at four years of age, when her father accepted an assignment in Central America. The family then lived for a time in northern England before finally settling in the United States. After graduating from Tulane University in 1942 and spending two years working for the U.S. War Department, Holland rented an apartment in New York City and began her career in publishing.

Becoming an Author

For nearly twenty-five years, Holland held a succession of publishing jobs, mostly in publicity, for such magazine and book publishing companies as Crown, Lippincott, Dell, Putnam, and McCalls. During her time away from the office, she wrote short stories and sent the manuscripts to publishers, but her work was rejected and sent back. Discouraged, Holland stopped writing for a few years, only to discover how much she missed it. "I discovered," she once recalled in Junior Literary Guild, "that I missed the act of writing." She happily returned to writing, and this time decided to concentrate on novels. Eventually her books became so popular with young people that Holland turned to writing full time.

"When children ask me why I became a writer," Holland once explained to a writer for Junior Literary Guild, "I tell them that my mother used to keep me quiet and entertained by telling me stories—she was a terrific storyteller, and I would listen fascinated as these tales would unfold. Years later, I would discover that these stories came out of history, legend, the Bible, mythology, grown-up novels, stories, McGuffey's readers, and so forth. I firmly believe that storytelling is the oldest form of human entertainment. Naturally, story-listening led to story-writing."

Holland's own storytelling technique has been praised by both reviewers and readers. It is also frequently cited as one of the main reasons for the writer's enduring popularity. A reviewer for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books remarked that Holland's "writing style is smooth, with good dialogue and excellent characterization." The reviewer also noted that it is "in insight into motivations and relationships that [Holland] really excels."

In addition to her talents as a master storyteller, Holland's ability to create realistic, true-to-life characters in her works of fiction for young adults won many admirers. "Holland, as a novelist of considerable experience, is accustomed to fleshing out her characters until they become as real as relatives to the reader," commented Nora E. Taylor in the Christian Science Monitor. Ruth Hill Viguers remarked in Horn Book that the characters in Holland's Cecily, her first published novel, make the book very enjoyable for its readers. That book, in fact, has a strong autobiographical element, as Holland wrote in Something about the Author Autobiography Series ( SAAS ): " Cecily was about a short, fat, unhappy thirteen-year-old in an English boarding school, and contained, of course, a large autobiographical element, since I had indeed been a short, fat thirteen-year-old in an English boarding school." In any case, the book impressed reviewers; Viguers noted that Cecily is an "almost flawless novel.... Several of the mistresses of Langley School, the girls who play even small parts in Cecily's misery or reclamation, and certainly the main characters are so well understood, so alive, that they demand the reader's complete involvement. A beautifully polished gem of a novel . . . that will be a relief from tired stories written especially for teen-agers." Holland intended Cecily for an adult audience, but "because the novel revealed exceptional insight into the young girl's psyche, Holland was asked to write for children," related a contributor to the St. James Guide to Children's Writers.

A Gifted Writer

Several reviewers maintained that much of the success of Holland's books, such as The Man without a Face, Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, Dinah and the Green Fat Kingdom, and The Unfrightened Dark, was due to her talent for combining her two noted gifts—storytelling and characterization—to create memorable stories involving strong, unique young people. While these characters struggle to deal with their problems, they are successful in the end. Young readers often identify with Holland's teenage characters in their struggle toward adulthood. As Anne Marie Stamford stated in a review of Holland's Of Love and Death and Other Journeys in Best Sellers: "Difficult as it must be to write through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old when one has passed that transient age, [Holland] manages it with style and wit. The desperate throes of first love, the longing to be twenty-one, can be relived vicariously in these pages. The author's straightforward sense of humor when describing people and situations made me laugh out loud, a response rare indeed to novels these days." Joseph A. Cawley remarked in Best Sellers that Holland "wields a painter's brush in her delineation of the characters involved. Quite the master is she in rousing sympathy for or distrust of, admiration of or disgust for the actors as they come on scene, play their part, depart."

Although praised for their sensitivity and compassion, Holland's books have also been criticized for being moralistic and for oversimplifying the problems of their characters. In her lengthy study of Holland and her work for Children's Literature in Education, Corinne Hirsch commented that "deeply troubled youths struggle through the pages of Isabelle Holland's young adult novels." While the novelist employs her "material successfully to explore her characters' loneliness and need for love, . . . she seems to mistrust her adolescent reader's ability to face the disturbing consequences of the situations she creates. To prevent her novels from becoming terribly distressing, she resorts both to shallow psychologizing and plot manipulation to ameliorate her characters' problems." Hirsch also noted that Holland tended to "attempt to impose her moral values on her adolescent readers," particularly her conservative belief that adults should be strict rather than passive in their parenting.

A Groundbreaking Novel

One of Holland's most controversial books is The Man without a Face. This novel examines the complex relationship between a young fatherless boy, Charles, and his teacher, Justin. The book includes a brief sexual episode between the two males. Many reviewers thought Holland handled the encounter between Charles and Justin tastefully. However, some critics and parents were not happy that Holland chose to write about this subject. In a Library Journal review of The Man without a Face, L. N. Gerhardt described the book as "unsatisfying" and "too juvenile for adult reading and too nervously adult in its circumlocutions to be of any value as reassurance or informative entertainment for young readers."

In contrast, Sheryl B. Andrews saw The Man without a Face as an important contribution to young-adult literature. Andrews observed in Horn Book: "Without being mawkish or false, [Holland] has delved into the joy and sorrow concomitant with love and growth" and "handles the homosexual experience with taste and discretion; the act of love between Justin and Charles is a necessary emotional catharsis for the boy within the context of his story, and is developed with perception and restraint." Andrews concluded her review by stating that The Man without a Face is "a highly moral book, powerfully and sensitively written; a book that never loses sight of the humor and pain inherent in the human condition." In regard to this and other Holland novels, the St. James Guide to Children's Writers essayist remarked, "She often treats controversial subjects—death, homosexuality, rape, the dangers of hitchhiking—but she avoids treating these topics with a didactic tone. Rather, she skillfully embeds social, psychological, and moral messages within believable dramatic situations."

While The Man without a Face may have been Holland's most controversial book, Of Love and Death and Other Journeys is widely considered her most popular work for young-adult readers. In Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, a young girl, Meg, faces several major crises, including the death of her mother. As a result of dealing with her problems, Meg eventually grows and matures. A critic for Horn Book reported that "with sympathetic understanding of adolescent emotions, [Holland] has written a moving study of a young girl's sudden confrontation with life's paradoxes.... Artistically balanced, the plot never degenerates into bathos because of the substantial theme, fully realized setting, incisive characterization, and elegant style. There are not only witty conversational exchanges but also brilliant comments on life in general."

"This is a sophisticated book; Holland does not talk down to her readers by explaining references made by the cosmopolitan characters," noted a reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books. "They are superbly drawn, and the relationships are equally strong. The book ends on a hopeful note, as Meg is helped by her stepmother to face her grief, and it is lightened by the humor of the dialogue throughout all but the ending of the story."

If you enjoy the works of Isabelle Holland

If you enjoy the works of Isabelle Holland, you may also want to check out the following books:

Brenda Seabrooke, Home Is Where They Take You In, 1980.

Margaret Mahy, The Other Side of Silence, 1985.

Karen Hesse, A Time of Angels, 1995.

Expands into Adult Fiction

In 1974, after writing five books for young adults, Holland began writing her first novel for adults, Kilgaren, and also penned a number of Gothic mysteries for older readers. Holland's books for adult readers, like her young-adult literature, are known for highlighting strong characters who work hard to solve or overcome their personal problems. These books have also been described as light-hearted, quality entertainment written with an easy sense of humor. As a critic wrote in a Publishers Weekly review of Moncrieff: "The tongue-in-cheek touch, the wry wit just beneath her heroine's frantic final plight, make Isabelle Holland's novels a great deal of fun for sophisticated readers.... Holland does a neat job of putting it all together, and as always with that underlying sense of humor that distinguishes her work."

Some of Holland's later novels for young people developed from her study of the history of New York City, her adopted home; their subject is life in nineteenth-century New York, especially the immigrant experience. Behind the Lines, published in 1994, takes place during the New York draft riots of 1863. The protagonist is Katy O'Farrell, a fourteen year old who works as the maid to a wealthy family that wish to send Katy's older brother to fight in the U.S. Civil War as a "substitute" for their own son. Sending substitutes was a common practice at the time, as certain groups of men were not subject to the draft but were still eligible to serve in place of the draftee. The Promised Land, a sequel to The Journey Home, deals with "orphan trains," on which a social service agency sent orphaned Irish children out of the city to potential adoptive parents. "While it may sound grim and somewhat heartless," Holland wrote in SAAS, "what people now don't realize is that . . . those children, homeless orphans from the New York streets, were far better off on a farm or in a small town west of the Hudson, than back in the city." Interestingly, some Irish Catholics saw the program "as part of a Protestant plot to evangelize the children to Protestantism," Holland remarked. New Irish immigrant Michael, the protagonist of Holland's book, is influenced by this view and so journeys to Kansas in an effort to find his nieces and bring them back. "Needless to say, he finds them given far better care by the Protestant adoptive parents than he could possibly supply if he took them back with him to New York," Holland commented. Paperboy, the author's final novel and another tale of the Irish in New York, finds the title character, a young Irish newsboy, struggling to support his widowed father and younger sister until he is mentored by a newspaper publisher.

Holland, who died in 2002 after publishing more than fifty books, once remarked, "I write about what interests me most: the development of character, its growth of understanding of self, and its relationship to others. To me this is the basis of all stories, and I look upon myself primarily as a storyteller." The contributor in St. James Guide to Children's Writers concluded that "Holland justly deserves her reputation as an accomplished novelist for children and young adults. She expresses in lucid prose the complexities of relationships, insists upon the need for young adults to accept responsibility for their lives, as well as the consequences of their actions, and celebrates the power of the human spirit to heal itself and to survive the most painful circumstances."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 21, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

Gallo, Donald, editor, Speaking for Ourselves, National Council of Teachers of English (Urbana, IL), 1990.

Nilsen, Pace, editor, Literature for Today's Young Adults, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1980.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 103, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Writers for Young Adults, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.


ALAN Review, fall, 1985.

Best Sellers, April 1, 1967, p. 7; December 1, 1974, pp. 382-383; May, 1975, Anne Marie Stamford, review of Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, p. 33; March, 1977, Joseph A. Cawley, review of Grenelle, pp. 381-382.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1970, pp. 9-10; July-August, 1975, review of Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, p. 178; April, 1979, review of Dinah and the Green Fat Kingdom, p. 138; March, 1980, p. 135.

Children's Literature in Education, spring, 1979, Corinne Hirsch, "Isabelle Holland: Realism and Its Evasions in The Man without a Face, " pp. 25-34.

Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 1974, Nora E. Taylor, "Escapism," p. F5; August 3, 1977, p. 23.

Horn Book, June, 1967, p. 353; August, 1972, Sheryl Andrews, review of The Man without a Face, pp. 375-376; June 3, 1973, pp. 299-305; June, 1975, review of Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, p. 274; June, 1980, p. 297; June, 1983, "Tilting at Taboos," pp. 299-305.

Junior Bookshelf, June, 1980, pp. 143-144.

Junior Literary Guild, March, 1980, review of Now Is Not Too Late, p. 1.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1975, pp. 383-384; March 15, 1977, p. 285.

Library Journal, July, 1972, L. N. Gerhardt, review of The Man without a Face, p. 2489; June, 1975, review of Of Love and Death and Other Journeys, p. 1168.

Lion and the Unicorn, winter, 1979-80, pp. 86-95.

New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1970, p. 23; October 30, 1977, pp. 34, 36.

Publishers Weekly, August 25, 1975, "Mystery and Suspense," p. 286; March 28, 1994, review of Behind the Lines, p. 98; July 26, 1999, review of Paperboy, p. 92.

School Library Journal, September, 1977, p. 145.



Horn Book, May-June, 2002, pp. 366-367.

New York Times, March 9, 2002, p. A14; March 14, 2002, p. A2.*

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