In " Holly", Albert French attempted to introduce his readers to the topic racism. He chose to do this through the eyes of a young girl growing up in a racist environment. The critics appreciate the novel stylistically and thematically, pointing out the skill in which French portrays his characters emotions, and evolutions. While some mentioned a few negative aspects, they all praised French's writing style.
French spends the majority of the story developing Holly's character, showing that she has much more potential than the unsophisticated, low life that surround her. In French's first novel " Billy" and in " Holly", he adroitly portrays North Carolina of the 1940's. Dyer, who interviewed French, reported French's comment that, "this whole system that says a black writer cannot write about a nineteen year old white girl (is wrong)....I never lived there... the description is a gift I have." Huffman found that "French's gift for dialect, mood and character (are what make) Holly so thoughtful and compelling" Goodrich goes on to say that the descriptions are so unbelievable that he was left to speculate, "French must have had an older sister or a teenage daughter, because he evokes the adolescent patter beautifully. The fact that the critics praise French for what they call "adolescent patter" shows how profound his writing actually was. Certainly French's style makes Holly into more than an ordinary southern teenager, she suddenly has depth well beyond the presupposed shallowness of a happy-go-lucky teenager. With this depth we are able to find a girl "frustrated by a world she doesn't know yet wants to be a part of" (Huffman).
The Quarterly Black Review (QBR) explains Holly quite interestingly. French's first book, Billy, was about a black boy who killed a white girl in self defense. The book then revolves around the southern "Justice", or lack of it, which condemns Billy to death. The QBR suggests that "
Holly is pretty much Lori Pasko (the homicide victim from Billy). It's as though French wanted to see how the girl would have turned out had Billy not killed her." So with Holly, French tries to explore southern racism, using as his protagonist a white girl, instead of a Negro. Holly's character is truly delineated as she deals with the tragic effects of war. In this troubling time in her life, she must truly discover herself in order to be able to survive the tides of change. Before the war intruded upon her, her life was a mirage of meaningless activity. Suddenly, however she realizes that her loved ones will never return, and Holly's childhood days are abruptly ended. Huffman appropriately remarks that "death turns Holly's dreams into nightmares of loss and guilt." Furthermore Huffman believes that for Holly, "Age 19 seemed like a weary 39." While I can see how Huffman could be justified in saying that, I must disagree. His interpretation is lacking because it misses the crucial transition period in which we watch Holly develop. It is true that she does grow up after the war, but it must be stressed that the growth isn't an automatic result of events. Rather, it is from Holly's own desire to go to the creek and spiritually transform herself from a child to an adult. Consequently that transformation becomes the essence of the story. Goodrich seems to recognize this fact as he postulates, "She is now frighteningly free, as well as deeply guilt ridden-two things which explain her attraction to Elias." So it should be seen that the war tragedies merely start off a domino effect which was created in order to enable the reader to see Holly's individual development. The most important relationship of the novel is the one between Holly and Elias, in which Holly's true identity is revealed. Goodrich points out what sets Elias apart from all else, saying, "Elias is everything Holly's other would-be boyfriends are not: mature, talented, resolute and accepting." Goodrich also comments, "to the white population of Supply, NC, Elias' being 'colored' and one-armed make him subhuman. Holly, however, comes to know that the very things for which local whites condemn Elias for, is what actually gives him depth and distinction." Along with this, Goodrich adds a bit of criticism, later remarking, "French overplays Elias' romantic attractiveness with painting, art, music, and the loss of one arm," yet he quickly qualifies the criticism, adding, "but he does contrast dramatically with Holly's callow, shallow friends." Huffman correctly notes that after the war, "just being someone's girlfriend isn't enough for Holly, even in her naive, unchallenged mind she wants to be part of a spiritual love" This point is certainly on the mark, after all, Holly is rebounding from an extremely confusing relationship with Billy. She liked him before he left, but did she love him? She was extremely uncertain of her feelings. So it makes sense to assume that she now was looking for a meaningful relationship. Goodrich explains the relationship in Shakespearean terms, "the central romantic relationship in Holly can be summed by saying, "She loved me for the dangers I had and I lov'd her that she did pity them" (Othello). Holly and Elias had had a common bond, the war, that tried to ruin them both. However, we still saw that they were able to empathize with each other, and share in the tragic feelings of the war. Ultimately it was through this caring relationship, that each emerged, full of renewed vigor. Lastly, Goodrich makes an excellent point in term of Elias. He points out perceptively, "Elias also represents Holly's unspoken homage to Billy and Bobby, a recognition that casualties of war should be honored." While everyone sees Elias as black, Holly sees him as a war veteran. As Goodrich alludes to, it is almost as if Holly sees her loved ones who were killed by the war, in Elias. Therefore, by creating a relationship with Elias, she has effectively brought back everyone that ever meant something to her. The topic of racism wasn't mentioned much in the critics except by the QBR. The QBR complains, "Holly only defended Elias individually, extricating him as a person, "he ain't no nigger, he's a Negro." Yet the QBR explains that this shortcoming adds to Holly's development. We see this by the fact that she says "it's as though she was confused by her shifting realizations, finding human value in a place where she never saw it before." Certainly by the end of the book we see that she has permanently separated herself from her racist family and town, replacing them with Elias. In a broad declaration lauding all of the novel's themes, Huffman commented that French's "social themes- love, maturation, race, relationship, and discovery- were profound," Goodrich places more emphasis not on what was said, rather how it was said, praising, "Holly is a moral fable, French has told the story with grace and feeling and more significantly, without preachiness or rancor." Dyer tries to simplify it all by saying the only lasting lesson to be learned is, "God ain't never got made at somebody just because they love somebody." These comments show how French was able to fuse together all of the themes into a coherent didactic tale. On the whole the critics made some excellent comments about French's intentions. All noticed that French's praiseworthy style added to the novel. While they stopped short of exploring Holly's far reaching statements on racism and adolescence, they did an excellent job of analyzing and critiquing French's masterful work. It is clear that French was able to accurately portray the trials and tribulations of growing up in the racist South.