HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Crazy Lady!
Author: Jane Leslie Conly
Cover Illustrator: Vincent Nasta
Publisher: HarperCollins, republished 1995
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 9-12, but I would say for ages 16 and up if at all
Rating: ** 2 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Conly, Jane Leslie. Crazy Lady! (published in 1993 by Harper Trophy, a trademark of HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022). It is 1981, and thirteen year old Vernon Dibbs, a seventh grader who is failing in school, lives in the blighted Tenley Heights neighborhood of Baltimore, MD, with his illiterate but hard working father and four siblings, Stephanie and Tony, who are older, and Sandra and Ben, who are younger. Vern’s mother had died at work from a stroke three years earlier. His friends are Chris Murphy, Bobby Sullivan, and Jerry Roland. While feeling increasingly alienated from his widowed father, Vern joins the other boys in ridiculing the neighborhood outcasts, Maxine Flooter, an alcoholic prone to outrageous behavior, and Ronald, her mentally challenged son. However, when Miss Annie, a neighbor of Maxine’s who is tutoring Vern, asks him to do some work for Maxine, he begins to make friends with Ronald. Vern even helps him with the Special Olympics. Unfortunately, Maxine becomes increasingly drunk and belligerent, and a social service agency tries to put Ronald into a special home, but Vernon fights against the move.
How do his family and friends react to Vern’s relationship with Ronald? Is there anything that he can do to keep his new friend from being sent away? And what will happen to Ronald? Crazy Lady! was a 1994 Newbery Honor Book. This was, of course, long after the 1960’s watershed when the character of Newbery books changed from being morally good and uplifting to being socially relevant and realistic. This book has all kinds of references to cussing, hotwiring cars, shoplifting, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine, and getting drunk. Maxine and Ronald’s father, W. B. Swan, never married. One reviewer wrote, “Yes, there is some language in this book that would not be acceptable unmonitored for young children, though it is kept minimal. Yes, there are situations in the storyline that are not completely happy. Yet…the story is a true gem of the theme of acceptance– of those who are different, of our own gifts and limitations, and of the opportunities given us to try and change those situations.” I beg to differ. The unacceptable language is not minimal; it is pervasive. Not only do the “d” and “h” words appear frequently, spoken even sometimes by kids, but also there are terms like “pissed” and “boob,” and even “bullsh**” (once) and “goddam***” (three times) as well.
So far as I am concerned, there is simply no excuse for using that kind of language in books aimed at children. Others noticed it too. One said, “Apparently kids’ books with cuss words are considered literature. What a filthy book to place in front of children.” Another noted, “Whereas the story has merit, this is not fit reading for 9-12 years olds. The story has no obvious penalties for harassment, shoplifting, abusive and offensive language.” Still another wrote of “some bad language being said in the book that I believe most parents would not approve of.” One student reported, “I read this book in grade school. Mrs. Goldberg let us scream the curse words to get them out of our system.” I’m glad my children were not in that classroom. The book has also been criticized for what the characters say to each other in their moments of unhappiness, frustration, and anger. Yet another reviewer said, “I think that this book is good for all ages!” Again, I disagree. While I really don’t recommend it at all, I would say that if one is going to suggest the book, it should be for ages 16 and up only. Also, the conclusion is rather abrupt, I suppose to remind us that not every situation ends “happily ever after.” While there could have been a useful story here, there are those of us who feel that how a tale is told can be as important as any supposed benefit of the tale itself.