Familiar plot, little value in The Green Years

A. J. Cronin’s The Green Years is formula fiction with an inspirational ending.

After his parents die, Robert Shannon is taken in by his mother’s family, strangers to him. Some of them are very strange indeed. The family is poor, and “Papa’s” miserly ways make their lives even more miserable than they need to be.

Robert’s desire to be liked makes him an easy target for liars and cheats. He usually ends up poorer, no wiser, and more introverted and depressed than before.

His teacher encourages him to try for a scholarship, but when diphtheria keeps him from the third day of testing, Robert’s scholarship hopes are ruined.

He ends up working as a boilermaker, shunning friends and family who supported his dreams. They remain faithful to him, however, and provide the book with a happy ending.

Cronin’s characters are nothing more than two-dimensional sketches. Robert grows older, but doesn’t seem to grow up. He shows every sign of developing into self-centered, depressed adult.

The Green Years is one more nail in the coffin of the the poor-but-brilliant orphan storyline.

Let’s bury it once and for all.

The Green Years
By A. J. Cronin
Little, Brown, 1944
210 pages
1944 bestseller #6
My grade: C +

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

2 thoughts on “Familiar plot, little value in The Green Years

  1. Hmm. And the problem with an inspirational novel is?
    Also, the situation of the family and the way they behave is not unusual for the time or place. Why is it unusual for a depressed person to become more introverted and withdrawn? Classic symptoms, I would say, and counter argue that it is well observed, if purposely understated. Perhaps this review says more about your life experience than it says about the book.


    1. You’re correct about the family situation being fairly common for its time. You’re also correct about the depressed person becoming more introverted and withdrawn.
      I don’t have a problem with inspirational novels, just with novels in which the inspiration is tacked on. It’s been more than five years since I read this book. All I remember about the book now is that it made me think of the P.D.Q. Bach opera (courtesy of Peter Schickele) in which the characters all jump up at the end and sing “Happy Ending.”


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