Meaker, Marijane 1927- (Ann Aldrich, Mary James, M.E. Kerr, M.J. Meaker, Marijane Agnes Meaker, Vin Packer)
Meaker, Marijane 1927- (Ann Aldrich, Mary James, M.E. Kerr, M.J. Meaker, Marijane Agnes Meaker, Vin Packer)
Born May 27, 1927, in Auburn, NY; daughter of Ellis R. (a mayonnaise manufacturer) and Ida T. Meaker. Education: Attended Vermont Junior College; University of Missouri, Columbia, B.A, 1949; Southampton College, Ph.D., 1996; attended New School for Social Research.
Writer. E.P. Dutton (publisher), New York, NY, assistant file clerk, 1949-50; freelance writer, 1949—. Volunteer writing teacher at Commercial Manhattan Central High, 1968. Founding member, Ashawagh Hall Writers' Workshop, Ashawagh, NY, 1982.
PEN, Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Maxi Award, Media and Methods magazine, 1974, for Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!; Children's Spring Book Festival honor book, Washington Post Book World, and Children's Book of the Year designation, Child Study Association, both 1973, both for If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?; Christopher Award, and Book of the Year Award, School Library Journal, both 1978, and named one of the Best Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library, 1980 and 1981, all for Gentlehands; Golden Kite Award, Society of Children's Book Writers, 1981, for Little Little; Emphasis on Reading Award, 1985, for Him She Loves?; Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist, 1990, for Fell Back; California Young Reader Medal, 1992, for Night Kites; Margaret A. Edwards Award, American Library Association, 1993, for body of work; National Council of Teachers of English Best Young Adult Novels of the '90s pick, Best Book Honor award, Michigan Library Association, 1994, and Horn Book Fanfare Honor book, 1995, all for Deliver Us from Evie; Knickerbocker Lifetime Achievement Award, New York State Library Association, 1999; Assembly on Literature for Adolescents Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age listee, 2002, and Oklahoma Library Association Young Adult Book Award nominee, 2003, both for Slap Your Sides; Pioneer Award for lifetime achievement, Lambda Literary Foundation, 2007. Several books published under the pseudonym M.E. Kerr were named Notable Books of the Year and Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association, Outstanding Books of the Year by the New York Times, and Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal.
Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties (memoir), Cleis Press (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Also author of foreword to Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community, edited by Roger Sutton, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
FOR YOUNG ADULTS; UNDER PSEUDONYM M.E. KERR, EXCEPT AS NOTED
Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, Harper (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted, 2002.
If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
The Son of Someone Famous, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.
Is That You, Miss Blue?, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
Love Is a Missing Person, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
I'll Love You When You're More like Me, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
Gentlehands, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
Little Little, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.
What I Really Think of You, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel (autobiography), Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
Him She Loves?, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
I Stay Near You: 1 Story in 3, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
Night Kites, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
Fell (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1987.
M.E. Kerr Introduces Fell, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1987.
Fell Back (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1989.
(Under pseudonym Mary James) Shoebag, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.
Fell Down (also see below), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Linger, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
(Under pseudonym Mary James) The Shuteyes, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Deliver Us from Evie, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
(Under pseudonym Mary James) Frankenlouse, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
(Under pseudonym Mary James) Shoebag Returns, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.
"Hello," I Lied, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Blood on the Forehead: What I Know about Writing (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
What Became of Her?, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Slap Your Sides, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
The Books of Fell (contains Fell, Fell Back, and Fell Down), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Your Eyes in Stars, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
Someone like Summer, HarperTeen (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor, under pseudonym M.E. Kerr, to Sixteen, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Delacorte, 1984; Vissions, edited by Gallo, 1984; Connections, edited by Gallo, 1989; Scholastic Scope, 1989, 1995; Funny You Should Ask, edited by Gallo, 1992; Am I Blue?, edited by Marion Dane Bauer, 1993; No Easy Answers, edited by Gallo, 1997; Bad Behavior, edited by Mary Higgins Clark; Family Secrets, edited by Linda Rowe Fraustino, 1999; Stay True, edited by Marilyn Singer, 1999; I Believe in Water, edited by Singer, 2000; On the Fringe, edited by Gallo, 2001; Shattered, edited by Jenifer Armstrong, 2003; and Hearing Flower, edited by Singer, 2004.
Meaker's manuscripts as M.E. Kerr are housed at the Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota.
(Under name M.J. Meaker) Hometown, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
Game of Survival, New American Library (New York, NY), 1968.
Shockproof Sydney Skate, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1972, reprinted, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 2002.
ADULT FICTION; UNDER PSEUDONYM VIN PACKER
Dark Intruder, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1952.
Spring Fire, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1952, Cleis (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
Look Back to Love, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1953.
Come Destroy Me, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1954.
Whisper His Sin, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1954.
The Thrill Kids, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1955.
Dark Don't Catch Me, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1956.
The Young and Violent, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1956.
Three-day Terror, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1957.
The Evil Friendship, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1958.
5:45 to Suburbia, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1958.
The Twisted Ones, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1959.
The Damnation of Adam Blessing, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1961.
The Girl on the Best-seller List, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1961.
Something in the Shadows, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1961.
Intimate Victims, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1962.
Alone at Night, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1963.
The Hare in March, New American Library (New York, NY), 1967.
Don't Rely on Gemini, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1969.
Scott Free, Carroll & Graf Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Also contributor to books and periodicals as Vin Packer; books include Some Things Weird and Wicked, edited by Joan Kahn, Pantheon, 1976, and Cosmopolitan's Winds of Love, Cosmopolitan Books, 1975; periodicals include Justice magazine and Redbook.
ADULT NONFICTION; UNDER PSEUDONYM ANN ALDRICH, EXCEPT AS NOTED
We Walk Alone, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1955, new edition, introduction by Marijane Meaker, afterword by Stephanie Foote, Feminist Press at the City University of New York (New York, NY), 2006.
We, Too, Must Love, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1958, new edition, introduction by Marijane Meaker, afterword by Stephanie Foote, Feminist Press at the City University of New York (New York, NY), 2006.
Carol, in a Thousand Cities, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1960.
We Two Won't Last, Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1963.
(Under name M.J. Meaker) Sudden Endings, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964, published under pseudonym Vin Packer, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1964.
Take a Lesbian to Lunch, MacFadden-Bartell, 1972.
Also author of A Guide to the Hangover, as M.J. Meaker.
Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! was broadcast as a television special by Learning Corporation of America, 1978; and was also optioned for film. If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? was released as an audio cassette by Random House, 1979; Fell was made into a sound recording in 1995 and Gentlehands in 1996.
Marijane Meaker, who writes for young adults almost exclusively as M.E. Kerr, is among the most popular and highly respected authors of American juvenile literature. Called "one of the grand masters of young adult fiction" by Lois Metzger in the New York Times Book Review, Meaker is an original writer whose novels Deliver Us from Evie and Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! are acknowledged as landmarks of young adult literature. In addition to addressing serious issues, Meaker is known for creating coming-of-age stories and romances in which adolescent protagonists—male and female, straight and gay—face change, deal with the difficulties of relationships, and struggle to take charge of their own lives.
Often celebrated for her understanding of human nature in general and young adults in particular, Meaker is lauded for the color and variety of her characterizations, which often feature offbeat or bizarre figures, as well as for her well-rounded portrayals of adults, a quality considered unusual in books for a teenage audience. Praised as a keen social observer, she often uses a satiric, ironic tone to describe contemporary American morals and mores, which she sees as filled with hypocrisy and corruption. Her books expose inhumanity and injustice in such areas as small-town life and organized religion while encouraging young readers to look beyond racial, cultural, and sexual stereotypes. Addressing such issues as mental illness, physical disability, substance abuse, anti-Semitism, and AIDS as well as the pain of adolescence, Meaker often structures her stories as first-person narratives relayed in a spare, direct prose style; the author also regularly includes quotations from sources such as the Bible, Shakespeare, and contemporary rock songs. Anita Silvey wrote in Horn Book that Meaker "is one of the few young adult writers who can take a subject that affects teenagers' lives, can say something important to young readers about it, and can craft what is first and foremost a good story, without preaching and without histrionics." In Presenting M.E. Kerr, Aileen Pace Nilsen described the author as "in a class by herself. Not often does someone come along who is a true teacher and a good writer. M.E. Kerr is both."
Much of Meaker's work as a writer of young adult literature is drawn from her own experience, as she wrote in her autobiography Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel. "Whenever you find a little smart-mouth, tomboy kid in any of my books, you have found me from long ago." Born in Auburn, New York, a small town near Rochester, the author "grew up always wanting to be a writer," as she related in her essay in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS). Her father, Ellis Meaker, a mayonnaise manufacturer for Ivanhoe Foods, had a wide range of tastes in reading that he passed on to his daughter; Meaker was also influenced by the English teachers who encouraged her as well as the librarians "who," as she noted in SAAS, "had to pull me out of the stacks at closing time."
Despite the influences of teachers and librarians, Meaker most often credits her mother, Ida Meaker, for her decision to become a writer. The novelist recalled that her mother, a terrific gossip, "would begin nearly every conversation the same way: ‘Wait till you hear this!’ Even today, when I'm finished with a book and sifting through ideas for a new one, I ask myself: Is the idea a ‘wait till you hear this’?"
As a junior in high school, Meaker started submitting romance stories with a wartime setting to popular women's magazines under the name Eric Ranthram McKay, a pseudonym chosen because her father's initials were E.R.M. Her stories, Meaker recalled in Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, "came back like boomerangs, with printed rejection slips attached. Sometimes these rejection slips had a ‘sorry’ penciled across them, or a ‘try again.’ These I cherished, and saved and used to buoy my spirits as I began new stories, and kept the old ones circulating."
As an adolescent, Meaker realized that she was a lesbian. As she wrote in her foreword to Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community, she was sent by her parents to ballet class to see if her homosexuality "could be corrected." She was also sent to Stuart Hall, an Episcopal boarding school for girls in Staunton, Virginia. In her foreword to Hearing Us Out, Meaker remembered: "When my mother finally did come to terms with me and with terms (‘I hate that word lesbian and I'll never call you one!’), she asked that there be one promise: ‘Never bring any of them to the house! … Around here I couldn't hold my head up if it ever got out.’" Meaker recalled: "My father could never even speak about it. So formed by what others thought, … both my parents missed the chance to know my warm and loving friends—as well as to know me better."
At Stuart Hall Meaker became a rebel; in her senior year, she was expelled for throwing darts at pictures of faculty members before her mother arranged her reinstatement with a bishop. In Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, she described herself during her Stuart Hall years as "the out-of-line black sheep," but admitted that at the boarding school "there was something stimulating and amusing, and very like life, as I came to know it, in its regulated, intense, dutiful and peculiar ambiance."
After graduation, Meaker went to Vermont Junior College, where she edited the school newspaper, the first publication to print one of her stories. In 1946 she transferred to the University of Missouri, where she initially majored in journalism; Meaker switched to the English program "partly because," as she noted in SAAS, "I failed Economics, which one had to pass to get into J-School, and partly because I realized I didn't want anything to do with writing fact. I wanted to make up my own facts."
After graduation in 1949, she moved to New York, NY, and she began clerking at the E.P. Dutton publishing company, while also continuing to send out stories. "I wrote anything and everything in an effort to get published," she admitted in Me, Me, Me, Me, Me. "I wrote confession stories, articles, ‘slick’ stories for the women's magazines, poetry, and fillers."
Finally gaining some publicity for her writing and self-promotion efforts, Meaker was offered the chance to write for the Fawcett paperback series Gold Medal Books, and began publishing mysteries and thrillers for adults under the names Vin Packer and Ann Aldrich. While writing adult novels and nonfiction titles, she also began taking classes in psychology, child psychology, sociology, and anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York. In 1964, she published Sudden Endings, a nonfiction book on suicide, as M.J. Meaker; in 1972, she published a successful adult novel titled Shockproof Sydney Skate, a story featuring an adolescent protagonist, as Marijane Meaker. At the urging of a friend, she started to consider writing for the young-adult market.
In 1968, Meaker began volunteering as part of an experimental program in New York City, where writers went into high schools one day a month in order to interest students in writing. In one of her classes, she met an overweight African American girl named Tiny who, Meaker recalled in SAAS, "wrote some really grotesque stories, about things like a woman going swimming and accidentally swallowing strange eggs in the water, and giving birth to red snakes." Meaker continued: "One day her mother appeared, complaining that … I was encouraging Tiny to write ‘weird.’" In their discussion, Meaker learned that Tiny's mother was, the author claimed, "an ardent do-gooder" who left her daughter alone while she went out to do community service. "In other words," Meaker continued, "while Tiny's mom was putting out the fire in the house across the street, her own house was on fire. I was thinking a lot about this." The result was Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, which Meaker published under the pen name M.E. Kerr, a play on her last name.
Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! is the story of an obese teenager whose mother is so absorbed in her own work with drug addicts that she fails to notice her daughter; the novel also concerns Dinky's relationship with P. John, a sympathetic classmate who shares a weight problem, and P. John's relationship with his father, whose liberal values have caused the boy to adopt an ultra-conservative view. At the conclusion of the novel, Dinky grabs her mother's attention by inscribing the title legend on the wall of the building in which her mother is receiving the Good Samaritan Award. Meaker's "funny/sad first novel shoots straight from the hip," wrote Pamela D. Pollack in the School Library Journal, and dubbed the work "a totally affecting literary experience." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Dale Carlson called the book "a brilliantly funny," "timely, compelling, and entertaining novel."
After this first success the forty-something writer began to rethink the direction of her career. As she wrote in SAAS, "As I looked back on my life, things seemed funnier to me than they used to. I seemed funnier to me than I used to, and so did a lot of what I ‘suffered.’ Miraculously, as I sat down to make notes for possible future stories, things that happened to me long ago came back clear as a bell, and ringing, and making me smile and shake my head as I realized I had stories in me about me."
Meaker has since produced a succession of young-adult novels about adolescents who survive their situations while learning about the larger world. In Is That You, Miss Blue? she tackles one of her most prominent subjects, religion, in the context of a boarding school story. The title character is a religious mystic who teaches science at an Episcopal boarding school in Virginia; Miss Blue, an inspired teacher, becomes an object of ridicule—and, eventually, a campaign for dismissal—because her intense religious experiences are considered inappropriate by both school authorities and some students. The narrator, fifteen-year-old Flanders Brown, moves from mocking Miss Blue to respecting her former teacher, who suffers a mental breakdown as the result of the pressure. "This is a sophisticated book," wrote Zena Sutherland in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "one that demands understanding from its readers and can, at the same time, lead them toward understanding." In Horn Book, Mary M. Burns praised the novel as "wryly funny," while in Best Sellers, a reviewer wrote that Meaker "can dig deep and scurry around in the loneliest, saddest corners of a reader's soul and always come up with a perceptive thought for teenagers to mull over."
Also focusing on religion, What I Really Think of You explores the world of fundamentalist preachers and its effect on the children of these ministers, and also builds on the connection between organized religion and business. The story describes how Opal and Jesse, two teenage PKs, or preacher's kids, deal with the professions of their fathers—one a rich television star and the other a poor Pentecostal minister—and questions of faith while developing a tentative relationship. At the end of the novel, Opal receives the gift of tongues, even after some earlier ambivalence, and finds love with Jesse's religious older brother; her new gift also brings her celebrity status when she is filmed by a television crew in her father's church. What I Really Think of You was criticized for making fun of religion, as well as for the inconsistency of Opal's character. However, as Marilyn Kaye wrote in the New York Times Book Review, the novel "has integrity. It's hard to believe that a novelist could indulge in such concepts as being ‘slain in the spirit,’ waiting for ‘The Rapture,’ faith healing and speaking in tongues without either proselytizing or mocking them—but glory be, M.E. Kerr has done both."
I'll Love You When You're More like Me focuses on Sabra St. Amour, a teenage soap opera star, and Wally Witherspoon, the son of a mortician, who meet while Sabra is vacationing in Wally's Long Island hometown. The teens' common bond is heightened by their shared efforts to deal with dominating parents. During the course of the story, Wally's friend Charlie comes out as a gay teen; at the end of the novel, he agrees to take Wally's place at the funeral home, and all three teenagers begin to break free of parental expectations. A critic writing in Kirkus Reviews noted that the author's "talent for combining the representative and the bizarre has never been so evident as in this inspired cast which seems to write its own story." In School Library Journal, Lillian M. Gerhardt praised Meaker for producing "superb serio-comic writing … that touches on nothing outside the ken or the conversation of young teens."
Meaker's teen novel Gentlehands is considered one of the most controversial books published under her Kerr pseudonym. The story describes the relationship between sixteen-year-old Buddy Boyle, a lower-middleclass boy, and Skye Pennington, a rich and beautiful girl; the larger story concerns Buddy's discovery that his grandfather, the cultured Frank Trenker, is actually a Nazi officer who murdered Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz. Meaker includes pointed social commentary directed at the tiny Long Island village in which the story takes place, as well as strong detail about Trenker's history as an SS officer; consequently, the novel provoked some negative reactions from both Jewish groups and critics of young-adult literature. In an interview for Behind the Covers, Volume II, Meaker noted that "I wanted to provoke the idea of what if you meet a nice guy, a really nice man, and what if you find out that in his past he wasn't such a nice man? How would you feel?"
Discussing Gentlehands in Interracial Books for Children, Ruth Charnes noted that, despite the author's intent, it is inappropriate "to give equal weight to the question of morality raised by the Holocaust and to an unrealistic teenage romance." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Bradford cited the book as "important and useful as an introduction to the grotesque character of the Nazi period, as well as to the paradoxes that exist in the heart of man," while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer described the book as "a marvel of understatement, diamond insights, irony, and compassion."
In Little Little Meaker describes the developing relationship of teens Little Little La Belle, a sophisticated "little person" who is the daughter of her town's leading family, and Sydney Cinnamon, a hunchbacked dwarf abandoned at birth. Little Little's mother wants her to marry the famous but shallow midget evangelist Little Lion, but a party celebrating Little Little's eighteenth birthday exposes Little Lion's true nature as well as the growing romance between Little Little and Sydney. "This is a story about courage and tolerance and growing up without growing bigger," wrote Suzanne Freeman in the Washington Post Book World. In the ALAN Review, Norma Bagnall called the novel "an outrageously sad-funny book with humor and pathos consistently maintained throughout" that represents "M.E. Kerr at her very best."
With her "Fell" series of young adult novels—Fell, Fell Back, and Fell Down—Meaker combines her interest in detective fiction with some of her most prominent themes, including betrayal, class conflict, and the politics and prejudices that can be found in prep schools. The series, which combines romance, mystery, and humor, revolves around John Fell, a policeman's son from Seaville, New York. A sensitive, witty gourmet cook who possesses a talent for detection as well as a sharp eye for phoniness, Fell is drawn into the world of privilege when he is asked to impersonate the son of a rich neighbor at the elite Gardner school. After he is asked to join a secret campus society called the Seven, he learns about the intrigue and tyranny underlying the school and discovers that his benefactor has been arrested for selling nuclear secrets. In a review of the novel for Booklist, Hazel Rochman noted: "Not since Gentlehands has Kerr so poignantly combined a story of romance, mystery, and wit with serious implications of class conflict and personal betrayal."
In Fell Back Fell searches for the cause of the suicide of one of his fellow members in the Sevens club and becomes involved in the drug scene and a love affair as well as with a murder. Reviewers gave the novel a mixed reception, a Publishers Weekly contributor noting that "the spark that ignited Fell seems to have fizzled out." Marjorie Lewis pointed out in School Library Journal that despite the plot's drawbacks, "Fell's charm is considerable, and readers will like him and his insecurities."
Fell Down describes how Fell, who has dropped out of Gardner, returns to the newly coed school to find April, the missing sister of his longtime girlfriend Delia; he soon becomes embroiled in a mystery that spans two generations and involves kidnaping and murder. Fell Down is unique among the volumes in the series in that it includes two narrators, Fell and "the Mouth," a ventriloquist who tells his story through the voice of his dummy. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman called the novel "a brilliant mystery, one that will have genre fans fitting the pieces together for days," while Christy Tyson wrote in Voice of Youth Advocates that Meaker's "mastery at character development is superb, and few can top her for style that can convey both wit and heartache." The "Fell" series was released as a single volume in 2001 under the title The Books of Fell.
Linger takes place in the small town of Berryville, Pennsylvania, rather than in Meaker's usual Long Island or upstate New York settings. The book's title refers to a popular restaurant owned by Ned Dunlinger, a powerful pillar of the community. The family of sixteen-year-old Gary Peel, like many of the Berryville residents, considers the Dunlingers akin to royalty; Gary's father manages Linger, his mother does the books, and Gary and his older brother Bobby wait tables. After an argument with Ned Dunlinger over the latter's efforts to shut down a competing Mexican restaurant, Bobby quits Linger, joins the army, and is sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation: Desert Storm. The novel includes excerpts from Bobby's Gulf War journal. When Bobby returns home as a hero after being wounded by friendly fire, his happiness quickly fades when injured army buddy Sanchez is openly treated with contempt by the manipulative Ned. Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Florence H. Munat praised Linger as "a sensitive and provocative book that reconstructs the emotional climate in the U.S. during the GulfWar," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor commended the novel as "rich with varied characters and points of view" and with "plenty of thought-provoking parallels."
Another novel that reflects the microcosm of small-town life, What Became of Her?, is narrated by sixteen-year-old E.C. Tobbit. The book focuses on Rosalind Slaymaster, once looked down on due to her job in the local funeral parlor but recently returned to town as a wealthy woman. E.C. and his friend Neal establish a friendship with Slaymaster's adopted daughter, Julie, and through this friendship E.C. discovers the key to Slaymaster's rise in affluence and the past that has driven her need for revenge. Enhanced by the author's "usual witty writing style," What Became of Her? was praised by School Library Journal contributor Susie Paige for its "eerily realistic" portrait of small-town life, "right down to the gossip, cruelty, fear, and insecurity." Frances Bradburn wrote in Booklist that Meaker's "unusual, haunting book will hold readers until the final page," while in Publishers Weekly a contributor wrote that, "with a masterful, invisible hand," the author "quietly adds layers of meaning to a seductive, psychologically riveting story."
Although Meaker includes gay characters in several of her novels, in Deliver Us from Evie and "Hello," I Lied they become the focus. In Deliver Us from Evie a Missouri farm family's eighteen-year-old daughter, Evie Burman, is a talented mechanic who looks like the young Elvis Presley. Problems arise when she falls in love with Patsy Duff, the attractive daughter of the local banker. Narrator Parr, Evie's youngest brother, describes the varied reactions to Evie's coming out—mostly hostile and uncertain with some acceptance—as well as his own romance with Angel Kidder, a religious but hot-blooded teen. The Mississippi floods of 1993 provides a strong symbol; the rising waters are interpreted by some as God's warning to Evie and Patsy, but also as their means of escaping to New York City. Writing in the Wilson Library Bulletin, Cathi Dunn MacRae noted Meaker's pioneering effort in "tackling the female butch stereotype," while Christine Jenkins described the book in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books as "vintage Kerr." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Lois Metzger noted that Deliver Us from Evie is "so original, fresh and fiery, you'd think that M.E. Kerr … was just now getting started."
"Hello," I Lied also addresses issues of homosexuality and identity. The story is told by seventeen-year-old Lang Penner, a young man who has already come out to his mother but is concerned about how his friends will react. Lang and his mom are living in the Hamptons for the summer, where his mother is working as housekeeper for reclusive rock star Ben Nevada. Lang's lover, Alex, presses him to live openly as a gay man; however, Lang finds himself attracted to Huguette, a young French woman who is visiting Nevada. By summer's end Lang has learned about the complexities of relationships and the fluid nature of identity; in addition, he has acquired sweet memories of loving a girl. Writing in Horn Book, Roger Sutton commented: "Gay themes in young adult literature have been pressing beyond the standard coming-out story. And, as usual, M.E. Kerr is right out in front." According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Hello," I Lied "successfully challenges readers' assumptions, breaking them down to offer more hopeful, affirming ideas about love and truth."
In addition to her teen novels, Meaker has also written several books for young readers that focus on less-personal matters. Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers takes place at a Long Island animal shelter run by Mrs. Splinter and describes life from the point of view of the dogs, cats, and other critters that have taken up residence there. Despite its focus on the animals' hopes of finding a home in a loving adoption, Meaker's book was described by School Library Journal contributor Pam Spencer as "light" and "upbeat," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that the goings-on at the busy shelter "should keep young animal lovers happy and occupied." Writing that the author leavens "some poignant moments with slapstick comedy," a Publishers Weekly contributor predicted that the animated animal cast of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers will "wiggle, wag and worm their way into readers' hearts."
In the autobiography Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Meaker describes her life from the age of fifteen until the publication of her first story in 1951. The result of many letters the author has received from readers, the book presents autobiographical vignettes as well as the author's explanations of the people and experiences that influenced her books. Paul A. Caron, writing in Best Sellers, stated that Meaker has written a "fascinating, yet timeless look at herself and others, which will not only delight her fans, but will no doubt increase their number." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Joyce Milton noted: "Kerr unveils a deliciously wicked sense of humor" and provides readers with "a satisfying if brief encounter with a humorist whose delight in poking fun at the trappings of authority is unmarred by either self-hatred or pettiness toward others." In Horn Book, Nancy C. Hammond explained that Meaker "confesses to being the ‘smartmouth’ tomboys populating many of her novels. And she is quite as entertaining as they are. Incisive, witty, and immediate, the book is vintage M.E. Kerr."
In addition to her works as M.E. Kerr, Meaker has written for young people under the name Mary James. Shoebag, a parody of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis that satirizes both the human and roach worlds, describes a cockroach who turns into a boy. At school, Shoebag, who has been named for the site of his birth, makes friends with Gregor Samson, a boy who also used to be a cockroach. When Gregor decides to remain human, he grants Shoebag his ability to revert back to roach form, and Shoebag is happily reunited with his family. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Shoebag "a highly original story crammed with clever detail, action, insight, and humor, all combined with impeccable logic and begging to be shared." In Frankenlouse, fourteen-year-old Nick, the son of a general who is also his commanding officer in military school, convinces his dad that he is an artist. Throughout the story, Nick creates a cartoon strip featuring a book louse from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein who devours a whole collection of classic books—all except for those starting with the letter "m." Elizabeth S. Watson in Horn Book commented that in a story that is "not as complicated as it sounds," Meaker "encourage[s] some creative thinking" with this "funny and thought-provoking" read.
Again writing as Mary James, the author brings her cockroach-turned-human protagonist back in Shoebag Returns. In this story, Shoebag once again decides to turn into a boy so he can help Stanley Sweetsong, who finds himself the only boy at an all-girls school. "Readers may expect a lot of laughs," noted Michael Cart in Booklist.
Of her career as a young-adult writer, Meaker wrote in SAAS: "When I write for young adults I know they're still wrestling with very important problems like winning and losing, not feeling accepted or accepting, prejudice, love—all the things adults ultimately get hardened to, and forgetful of. I know my audience hasn't yet made up their minds about everything, that they're still vulnerable and open to suggestion and able to change their minds." The author went on to declare: "Give me that kind of an audience any day!"
Writing under her own name, Marijane Meaker, the author recounts her two-year affair with novelist Patricia Highsmith in the memoir Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties. The affair took place between 1959 and 1961, with the two authors even living together for six months in New Hope, PA. Known primarily for her psychological thrillers, Highsmith gained wide recognition with her first book, Strangers on a Train, which director Alfred Hitchock adapted for a film of the same name. Highsmith also wrote several books featuring murderer Tom Ripley, two of which have also been adapted as movies. "Much of Meaker's memoir of her relationship with novelist Patricia Highsmith reads like the lesbian pulp fiction she wrote during the post-World War II heyday of paperback originals," noted Marie J. Kuda in the Women's Review of Books. Kuda went on to note: "When they finally split, each woman found closure by brutally murdering the fictional counterpart of the other in respective novels."
In an interview with Ann Bannon in the Lambda Book Report, Meaker explained her reason for writing the memoir: "I had been working on a memoir of lesbian life in the '50s, so I decided to work through my feelings about Pat, and at the same time discuss some of what life was like then. Our stories are so rarely told, except for the rash of AIDS memoirs and scattered fictions, I thought it would be interesting to work on the story of Pat and me and the times." The author added: "I also wanted to show a warmer and nicer Pat, the Pat I knew, since her press has always been so hard on her."
In addition to her fiction books for young adults written as M.E. Kerr, the author also penned a writing guide for young adults titled Blood on the Forehead: What I Know about Writing. Along with writing tips, the author includes an introduction about how she became a writer and excerpts from her novels and short stories. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, called the guide "chatty and practical." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "serves up much to stimulate discerning readers and writers."
In Slap Your Sides, the author tells the story of a Quaker family who follow their belief of nonviolence as conscientious objectors during World War II. Jubal, the youngest of three sons in the family, is the story's narrator. Bud, the oldest boy, is sent to work in a mental hospital. Tommy does enlist for the draft but is deemed physically unfit. Jubal is too young for the service, but he observes the hardships his family faces even in a town where Quakers and Mennonites predominate. Jubal's life is made even more difficult because he is falling for Daria, who lives next door and has older brothers in the war. Although the families were friendly before the war, Jubal and Daria must now hide their relationship. Claire Rosser, writing in Kliatt, noted that the author "tells an important story of adolescents struggling with their own weaknesses during difficult times." School Library Journal contributor Lisa Prolman noted that the novel "will provoke thought and discussion about religion, war, and morality."
Your Eyes in Stars takes place in 1934 and tells the story of Jessica Myrer, who lives next to a prison where her father is warden. Unable to relate to her mother, Jessica is shy and friendless but soon makes friends with a young German girl, Elisa, whose family has just moved to town. With the outgoing Elisa as a companion, Jessica's life begins to change. However, when convict Slater Carr escapes, the two girls' friendship is challenged. Eventually, Elisa moves back to Germany, and her letters to Jessica turn from warm and friendly to having an ominous racist tone as Germany begins its persecution of Jews. "This wonderful book … is a ticket to a past life when our country suffered a terrible depression, and the world moved towards war," wrote Chris Shanley Dillman on the Teenreads.com Web site. Referring to the novel as "haunting," Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman noted that the author's story includes "big issues of racism, class, and patriotism."
The author returns to modern times with her book Someone like Summer. In the summer of 2005, seventeen-year-old Annabel Brown finds herself in love with a handsome Colombian immigrant named Esteban Santiago. Esteban, however, is not sure that he wants their friendship to become more. Trouble arises when Esteban is hired to work at Annabel's house and Annabel's father, who is prejudiced but hires undocumented immigrants to work in his construction business, erupts over a mistake Esteban makes while doing a roofing job. Furthermore, the local Long Island community is cracking down on illegal immigrants. Teenreads. com contributor Norah Piehl wrote that the author "again turns her talent to fiction that profiles social issues, bringing a number of current hot-button issues (including the Iraq War and illegal immigration) into the context of a compelling, tension-filled love story." Noting that the author "masterfully tells the story of the love between" the two main characters, Kliatt contributor Claire Rosser also commented that the author "covers the realities of the undocumented worker's dilemma."
In Scott Free, written under the pseudonym Vin Packer, the author features Scotti House, who needs money for his transgender surgery. In the meantime, he is an embarrassment to his family and has attracted the attention of Delroy, a shunned Amish man who knows Scotti's secret but finds himself attracted to Scotti anyway. In the meantime, Scotti's daughter is about to be kidnapped by people seeking to get a hold of a valuable emerald ring once owned by the Duchess of Windsor. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "crams enough plot for a dozen capers into this one, along with everything you … want to know about gender reassignment."
Two of the author's early books, We Walk Alone, published in 1955, and We, Too, Must Love, published in 1958, were reissued in new editions in 2006 with an introduction by the author and an afterword by Stephanie Foote. Written under the pen name Ann Aldrich, the books are the first of several written as Aldrich that chronicle the lesbian culture. Writing in Kirkus Reviews, Stephanie Foote called We Walk Alone "wry and sober, learned and insouciant," adding that "it includes a fantastic range of material." The book was immensely popular and underwent several reprints. It also garnered the author numerous letters, both from the gay and heterosexual communities. Foote noted: "Aldrich replied to many of the concerns and inquiries of her readers in her equally accomplished second book, We, Too, Must Love."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Behind the Covers, Volume II, Libraries Unlimited (Westport, CT), 1989, pp. 161-176.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 29, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 12, 1980, Volume 35, 1985.
Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen, Literature for Today's Young Adults, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1980, 2nd edition, 1985.
Kerr, M.E., Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
Meaker, Marijane, Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties, Cleis Press (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace, Presenting M.E. Kerr, Twayne (New York, NY), 1986.
Rees, David, Painted Desert, Green Shade: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young Adults, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1984.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Sutton, Roger, editor, Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
Twentieth Century Children's Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1989.
Advocate, May 27, 2003, Etelka Lehoczky, "The Woman Who Loved Highsmith: In a Memoir of Her Affair with Patricia Highsmith, Marijane Meaker Also Outs Herself as One of the Era's Talked-about Lesbian Authors," p. 64.
ALAN Review, fall, 1981, Norma Bagnall, review of Little Little, p. 21.
Best Sellers, May, 1975, Mrs. John G. Gray, review of Is That You, Miss Blue?, p. 49; June, 1983, Paul A. Caron, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, p. 110.
Booklist, February 1, 1997, Michael Cart, review of Shoebag Returns, p. 941; April, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Blood on the Forehead: What I Know about Writing, p. 1309; June 1, 1987, Hazel Rochman, review of Fell, pp. 1515-1516; September 15, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of Fell Down, p. 135; September 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Deliver Us from Evie, p. 125; April 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of "Hello," I Lied, p. 1423; April, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Blood on the Forehead, p. 1309; June 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Deliver Us from Evie, p. 1875, and M.E. Kerr, "A Writer's Life," p. 1878; July, 2000, Frances Bradburn, review of What Became of Her?, p. 2018; October 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 331; January 1, 2002, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 765; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 237; December 1, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Your Eyes in Stars, p. 42.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1975, Zena Sutherland, review of Is That You, Miss Blue?, p. 179; November, 1975, Zena Sutherland, review of Love Is a Missing Person, p. 48; March, 1990, Robert Strang, review of Shoebag, p. 164; September, 1993, Roger Sutton, review of Linger, p. 14; December, 1994, Christine Jenkins, review of Deliver Us from Evie, pp. 132-133; November, 2003, Deborah Stevenson, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 110.
Center for Children's Books Bulletin, February, 1997, review of Shoebag Returns, p. 210.
Drood Review of Mystery, July 1, 2004, Ted Fitzgerald, "Vin Rouge," review of Something in the Shadows and Intimate Victim, p. 1.
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, November 1, 2003, Martin Meeker, "Writing, Drinking, Quarelling: It Was the 50's," review of Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties, p. 37.
Growing Point, November, 1973, Margery Fisher, review of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, p. 2263.
Horn Book, August, 1975, Mary M. Burns, review of Is That You, Miss Blue?, p. 365; August, 1983, Nancy A. Hammond, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, p. 462; September-October, 1986, Anita Silvey, review of Night Kites, p. 597; January-February, 1995, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Frankenlouse, pp. 62-63; July-August, 1997, Roger Sutton, review of "Hello," I Lied, pp. 457-458; May, 2000, review of What Became of Her?, p. 316; November-December, 2001, Lauren Adams, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 751; January-February, 2006, Vicky Smith, review of Your Eyes in Stars, p. 82.
Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 9, number 8, 1978, Ruth Charnes, review of Gentlehands, p. 18.
Junior Bookshelf, June, 1991, Marcus Crouch, review of Shoebag, p. 114.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1977, review of I'll Love You When You're More like Me, p. 673; February 15, 1990, review of Shoebag, p. 264; July 1, 1993, review of Linger, pp. 861-862; November 15, 1994, review of Deliver Us from Evie, p. 1533; March 15, 1998, review of Blood on the Forehead, p. 405; October 1, 2003, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 122; January 1, 2006, review of Your Eyes in Stars, p. 42; June 15, 2006, Stephanie Foote, "Not Your Mother's 1950s," review of We Walk Alone and We, Too, Must Love, p. 586; March 15, 2007, review of Scott Free; July 1, 2007, review of Someone like Summer.
Kliatt, March, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of What Became of Her?, p. 16; March, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 24; January, 2006, Myrna Marler, review of Your Eyes in Stars, p. 8; July, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of Someone like Summer, p. 18.
Lambda Book Report, September, 1997, Nancy Garden, review of "Hello," I Lied, p. 37; August-September, 2003, Ann Bannon, "Interview with Marijane Meaker by Ann Bannon," p. 13; January 1, 2005, Martin Meeker, "Pulp Legacy," interview with author, p. 9.
Library Journal, April 15, 2004, Michael Rogers, review of Spring Fire, p. 132; February 1, 2007, Michael Rogers, review of We, Too, Must Love, p. 107.
Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2003, review of Highsmith, p. 6.
MLN, December, 2003, Victoria Hesford, review of Highsmith, p. 1311.
New Republic, November 10, 2003, "The Ick Factor," p. 28.
New York Times Book Review, February 11, 1973, Dale Carlson, review of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, p. 8; October 19, 1975, Alix Nelson, review of Love Is a Missing Person, p. 10; April 30, 1978, Richard Bradford, "The Nazi Legacy: Understanding History," p. 30; September 12, 1982, Marilyn Kaye, review of What I Really Think of You, pp. 49-50; May 22, 1983, Joyce Milton, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, p. 39; April 13, 1986, Audrey B. Eaglen, review of Night Kites, p. 30; April 9, 1995, Lois Metzger, review of Deliver Us from Evie, P. 25; August 31, 2003, Elise Harris, "Her Well of Loneliness," includes review of Highsmith.
Publishers Weekly, June 30, 1975, review of Love Is a Missing Person, p. 58; January 9, 1978, review of Gentlehands, p. 81; September 29, 1989, review of Fell Back, p. 70; January 11, 1993, review of The Shuteyes, p. 64; March 31, 1997, review of "Hello," I Lied, p. 75; July 11, 1994, review of The Shuteyes, p. 80; May 11, 1998, review of Blood on the Forehead, p. 69; April 24, 2000, review of What Became of Her?, p. 92; January 13, 2003, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 63; November 3, 2003, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 75; January 16, 2006, review of Your Eyes in Stars, p. 66; March 19, 2007, review of Scott Free, p. 47; June 18, 2007, review of Someone like Summer, p. 55.
School Library Journal, December, 1972, Pamela D. Pollack, review of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, p. 67; October, 1977, Lillian N. Gerhardt, review of I'll Love You When You're More like Me, pp. 124-125; September, 1986, Jennifer FitzGerald, "Challenging the Pressure to Conform: Byars and Kerr," pp. 46-47; September, 1989, Marjorie Lewis, review of Fell Back, pp. 272-273; April, 1993, Ruth S. Vose, review of The Shuteyes, p. 120; February, 1997, Anne Connor, review of Shoebag Returns, p. 103; June, 1997, review of "Hello," I Lied, p. 120; May, 1998, Miranda Doyle, review of Blood on the Forehead, pp. 156-157; July, 2000, Susie Paige, review of What Became of Her?, p. 106; October, 2001, Lisa Prolman, review of Slap Your Sides, p. 163; October, 2003, Pam Spencer, review of Snakes Don't Miss Their Mothers, p. 169; November, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, p. 82; January, 2006, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Your Eyes in Stars, p. 135.
Utne: A Different Read on Life, January 1, 2007, Julie Hanus, "The Gay Fifities," review of We Walk Alone and We, Too, Must Love, p. 26.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1987, Christy Tyson, review of Fell, p. 202; December, 1991, Christy Tyson, review of Fell Down, pp. 313-314; August, 1993, Florence H. Munat, review of Linger, p. 153; October, 1994, Dorothy M. Broderick, review of Deliver Us from Evie, p. 208.
Washington Post Book World, May 10, 1981, Susanne Freeman, "Growing up in a Small World," p. 15; June 10, 1990, review of Fell Back, p. 10.
Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1994, Cathi Dunn MacRae, review of Deliver Us from Evie, pp. 116-117.
Women's Review of Books, December, 2003, Marie J. Kuda, review of Highsmith, p. 7; December, 2003, "Highsmith," p. 7.
Cleis Press Web site,http://www.cleispress.com/ (November 15, 2007), profile of author.
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind,http://www.sarahweinman.com/confessions/ (June 29, 2005), Sarah Weinman, "The Idiosyncratic Interview: Sandra Scoppettone and Vin Packer."
Gormania blog,http://edgormanrambles.blogspot.com/ (February 10, 2006), profile of author.
Marijane Meaker Book Covers,http://www.mekerr.com/marijanemeaker.html (November 15, 2007).
Mekerr.com: The M.E. Kerr and Mary James Site,http://www.mekerr.com (May 3, 2005).
Teenreads.com,http://www.teenreads.com/ (November 15, 2007), Norah Piehl, review of Someone like Summer; Chris Shanley Dillman, review of Your Eyes in Stars; interview with author.
Telegraph,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (June 16, 2003), "A Passion that Turned Poison" (interview with author).