Neville, Emily Cheney

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NEVILLE, Emily Cheney

Born 28 December 1919, Manchester, Connecticut; died 14 December 1997

Daughter of Howell and Anne Bunce Cheney; married Glenn Neville, 1948; children: five

Emily Cheney Neville was the youngest child of the large, close-knit family she describes in her autobiographical novel, Traveler from a Small Kingdom (1968). Neville played and went to school only with siblings and cousins until she was ten. She attended Oxford School in Hartford and graduated from Bryn Mawr with a degree in economics. After working briefly for the New York Daily News as an office girl, Neville took a position with the New York Daily Mirror writing a profile column. She married a newspaperman with the Hearst Corporation and retired from journalism to raise her family, doing only occasional writing until all five children were in school.

Neville's books have been full-length realistic novels intended for later elementary and teenage readers. Her first book, It's Like This, Cat (1963), developed out of an imaginary scene in which a boy argues with his father over a cat. Neville expanded a short piece in the Mirror into the novel, which later won the Newbery award and is regarded as Neville's strongest book. Flimsy in plot, Cat 's strong points are its genuine, contemporary dialogue and warm insights into the inner feelings of young adolescents.

For slightly younger children, Berries Goodman (1965) is about the adjustments a New York City family must make when they move to Olcott Corners, a suburban community 50 miles out. Accustomed to a heterogeneous environment, nine-year-old Berries, a Gentile, is perplexed and disturbed by anti-Semitic sentiment directed toward his new friend, Sidney Fine, the only Jewish boy in Berries's school. Eventually, adults and circumstances come between the two and end their relationship. The story describes with sensitivity and perceptiveness the feelings of children caught up in adult tensions, which they regard as irrational but which they are powerless to combat. Well-drawn children offset the stereotyped adults and thin and contrived plot.

The Seventeenth-Street Gang (1966) is an amusing account of the sidewalk adventures of a group of children around Stuyvesant Park, the part of Manhattan in which Neville's own children grew up.

Slower moving, Traveler from a Small Kingdom is a fictionalized autobiography important for evaluating and understanding Neville's work. It tells of the middle years in the childhood of little Emily Cheney, a scrawny, often sickly, but still active and imaginative child. Her "small green kingdom" is "The Place," where a dozen Cheney families live in the mill town of South Manchester, Connecticut. Mrs. Goodall, English governess of Emily and her older sister, comes through as a strong, strict, and affectionate personality, while lively details of family gatherings, walks, domestic animals, and games with an assortment of mischievous and inventive cousins recreate the Cheney realm and a way of life that vanished with the Great Depression.

Less convincing are Fogarty (1969) and Garden of Broken Glass (1975), written for teenage readers. Both present interesting and sympathetic protagonists but suffer from limp plots, made-to-order incidents, and unbelievable conclusions. While it bravely tackles an important contemporary problem, Garden of Broken Glass lacks conviction as a novel because Neville seems more concerned with the sociology of alcoholism than with telling a good story well.

Neville has said about her work: "My writing is probably an outgrowth of my childhood in a large clannish New England family, mingled with my own quite different experiences raising five children in New York City." Concerned with showing young people the world as it is, she feels "the job for a writer of junior novels…[is] to shine the flashlight on good things, and on bad things. It is not our job to preach that this is right and that is wrong.

It is ours to show how and when and why Wrong can be so overwhelmingly attractive at a given moment—and how Right can be found in some very unlikely corners."

Neville felt plot in books for young people was less important than character; her strong point is her ability to create lively, sympathetic protagonists whose feelings, speech, and actions reflect well the concerns and behavior of modern youth. Neville's books are less overtly didactic and sociological than many recent books which deal with contemporary social problems and family relations.


Reference works:

More Books about More People (1974). Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books (1965). Something about the Author (1971). Third Book of Junior Authors (1972).


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