Nearby by Elizabeth Yates published by Coward MaCann Inc.
It was during the recent war that the story depicted in this novel was supposed to have taken place. Nearby was a little New England town, whose inhabitants were nearly all of Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Irish stock. The swamplands with beauty in nature, but ugliness in human habitation made up the slums of this nice, respectable town that had been considered nearby to the rest of the world because it was near by two well-traveled turnpikes in the olden days, but was now in reality just an isolated village.
Mary Rowan came to Nearby to teach in the rural school there, and during the first week she realized that instead of a small undertaking it was a vastly important work. Some of the children “were simple inheritors of all that was the birthright of childhood; others were like bits of flotsam in a muddy stream, tossed about by no wish of their own, victimized by the swirling of strange dark waters.”
The story of her work with Gwen Hazen, the ward of the welfare agency, Nezar and Renny Smith, the children of a squatter in the Swamplands, and the other children of the citizens of Nearby, amidst misunderstanding and malicious rumors proves to be a very interesting story. It is spiced by Mary’s memories of Ben Allenton, one-armed Dan Bixby’s love for Mary, and Mary’s victory over the unreasoning prejudice and gossip of the village.
The philosophy in this book is definitely not Christian from a Reformed or even a Fundamentalist viewpoint. God is presented as a presence in the world, or a power in man’s mind. Prejudice, intolerance and hatred are the main evils of this world. Democracy with all it stands for of tolerance, equality, and freedom is the good to be striven for and attaint that this world may be a worthwhile place in which to live.
There is much in this book that is not for the immature reader. The sordid side of life is dealt with rather realistically although not indecently. The modem, un-christian philosophy of the story is subtly pictured in all its beautiful and appealing idealism. However there is much that would be worthwhile if it were transplanted from its worldly, man-centered setting into a God-centered, Christian view of life.
Mature and discriminating readers may read this book with profit; school teachers especially may find much that is helpful in its pages; but it cannot be recommended to our young people without reservation.