A bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, American author Robert Burch’s young adult novel Queenie Peavy
(1966) follows 13-year-old Queenie who grows up in a small rural area of Georgia during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The novel focuses largely on Queenie and her relationship with her father, an inmate at a jail in Atlanta. As Queenie internalizes other people’s perceptions of her family, often struggling with being bullied, she gradually becomes more self-aware, ultimately finding that the idealized version of her father she had imagined is far different than the man who exists. The novel explores the fallibility of memory and the ability of memories to shape, and be shaped by, the beliefs, attitudes, and experiences of those who hold them. The book was unusual for its time in that it illuminated the common failures of masculinity and patriarchy through the struggles of a flawed, but perceptive and brave female protagonist who gradually redefines the terms of her attachment to her father.
The novel takes place as Queenie is entering junior high. She loves and dearly misses her father, who has been locked up in Atlanta for his involvement in a gang. The school’s most notorious bully, Cravey Mason, torments Queenie and gets several other members of their class to pick on her. Queenie endures the humiliation and isolation, telling herself that her father does not deserve his predicament and defending him publicly. When the bullying gets too difficult to bear and no one steps in to help her, Queenie starts to retaliate against the bullies, throwing rocks and playing equally cruel tricks on them. Her pranks take several violent turns: She even causes Cravey Mason to break his leg. Her delinquent behavior is quickly noticed, and her principal threatens to send her to a reformatory school. This possibility forces Queenie to take up a new perspective on her behavior, and to begin to ask who her father really is.
Mr. Peavy is soon revealed to be anything but the selfless, responsible, and nurturing Mr. Peavy Queenie has described. Evidence of neglect soon appears in all areas of Queenie’s life, including her lonely existence at home. Her house, very derelict, has no real beds or bathroom: She sleeps on the kitchen floor on a makeshift cot. The yard is infested with weeds and the exterior of the house is on the verge of collapse. Queenie had always told herself that if her father were there, the porch would be fixed, the yard beautiful, and the house full of furniture. However, as she takes stock of her life, she realizes that her father was never going to be around to do these things in the first place; indeed, he was around as the house first fell apart and failed to act.
At the end of the novel, Queenie finally sees the truth about her idealized image of her father. She recognizes that her loyalty to him has prevented her from grieving his physical and emotional absence. Though this realization causes her pain, she celebrates that she can now become an independent young woman and act in her own best interests.Queenie Peavy
celebrates the ability of many young victims of child neglect to take full control of their destinies.