Audrey's Reviews > Dear Enemy

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
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's review
Oct 31, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: 1910s, fiction, young-adult-fiction, epistolary, orphans
Read from December 20 to 31, 2011 , read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** After reading this and Daddy Long Legs, I think I can safely say that I'm not a huge fan of Jean Webster. There are some things I like about her writing, but much more that I don't. This book uses the same epistolary format employed in Daddy Long Legs, but this time Sallie (Judy's friend who is reforming the orphanage) writes to more than one person. I don't really like the letter-writing style because it seems like it leaves too much out. For example, towards the end of the book Sallie refers in her correspondence to an incident occurring on August 20. Since she never really writes about what exactly happened, we are just left to try to use our imaginations to guess.

This book also deals with some very disturbing views from Sallie and Dr. MacRae. In one of her letters Sallie says that she is tempted to poison a child because she is dumb, and another time she admits that if he were solely in her care, she would let an inebriated charge “just...slip away for the good of society." Other references are made to ridding the world of the "feeble-minded" through eugenics, and special needs kids being "defectives." Oh, and there is some racism and feminist stuff. Now Sallie never actually carries any of these thoughts out, and perhaps they had a different view of these things back then, but it was still enough to make me feel very uncomfortable and frustrated.

I thought Dr. MacRae was an interesting enough character, but the ending was far too sudden for me to find believable. Maybe Webster was trying to make him into a Mr. Darcy-type (ill-humored but with irresistible hidden depths)? In any case, I can't help thinking that Sallie wanted to take care of him more than she wanted to marry him, but whatever. (As a side note, was I the only one who found Sallie's transcribing of his Scottish dialect sometimes quite hard to decipher?) His wife's death was also a little too convenient, but apparently some of this was inspired by Webster's own life (although in her case, the insane wife didn't die, the husband just divorced her to marry Webster).

Sallie herself is a lot like Judy. She has a liveliness and resiliency in her, but she can also be quite annoying and mean. To her credit, some of her ideas about reforming the orphanage are really good. Despite that, though, this book really dragged on for me. There was a time when I almost doubted it would ever end.

I'm trying to decide between 1 and 2 stars. I'm tempted to go with 1, but I suppose it wasn't the very worst book I've ever read. I guess I'll go with 1.5 (which would round up to 2).

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