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Novels of Ouida Sebestyen share thread of good

To read Ouida Sebestyen is to feel deeply the power of good. Her prose holds us at the edge of our senses, where awareness is acute and meaning bursts forth from the most ordinary. In each of her four novels for young adults we see the chain of evil -- of hatred, resentment, fear -- being broken, and in the face of much hardship, rendered powerless by good. In Words By Heart (Atlantic/Little, Brown, Boston, 1979), Sebestyen's award-winning first novel, a black family strikes out for freedom and comes face to face with prejudice in an all-white town early in this century. Ben Sills, a deeply Christian man, has raised his daughter, Lena, with the imperative of good: ``Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'' But words must be lived. Just as the Sills family begins to get a foothold in the community, Lena's father is killed, and Lena is left to struggle alone with a mandate of goodness. Out of this deeper sense of life's purpose comes the courage to forgive, which Lena demonstrates when she saves the life of Tater Haney, the boy who has killed her father.

On Fire (Atlantic, Boston, 1985) carries on the story from Tater Haney's perspective. Tormented by the murder he has committed, Tater faces the problem of what to do now that his life has been spared: ``Sometimes I wish the law would just take me . . . but I guess that's too easy . . . you don't get to just die. . . . Like they give me back this life . . . And what am I doing with it . . . ''

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What am I doing with it? is the heart of Sebestyen's story. At first Tater plunges headlong into further wrong. But his younger brother Sammy and friend Yankee persevere, refusing to write him off, and in the last hour Tater makes a dramatic leap for freedom.

In Far From Home (Atlantic/Little, Brown, Boston, 1980), young Salty Yaeger searches for the father he has never known. His mother has died, leaving him with the command to ``Go to Tom Buckley . . . Love him.'' Salty finds Tom, and soon discovers him to be his father. A terrific struggle of wills ensues, of blame, of resentment for past wrongs, and of the question of responsibility. But through the strife they come to an acceptance of each other that fulfills Salty's mother's imperative to love.

In IOU'S (Atlantic/Little, Brown, Boston, 1982), the main character, Annie, has raised her son, Stowe, on her own, cut off from her father after his renunciation of her. After years of bitterness, Annie and Stowe's willingness to trust in good brings forgiveness and a move toward reconciliation. Ironically, Annie's father dies before they reach him, but Sebestyen shows us that the change in thought itself raises Annie and Stowe above the limitations of the past, and again evil is overcome.

Lyn Littlefield Hoopes, a former children's book editor, is the author of several picture books for children.

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