Monday, April 28, 2014

Reading: Tuck Everlasting

Courtesy of
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
in 1975
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit is one of those books I've always wanted to read.  I always saw it at the library or on the bookshelf, but it seemed my hands were always filled with titles and that book got "saved for later."  Well, no longer was I going to save it anymore!  I finally read this long-awaited book, and while it was different than I was expecting (um, yeah, I was expecting more of a love story, I suppose, BUT this was way better), it was totally worth the wait!  

The Tuck's are a family like no other because they won't die.  They unknowingly drank from the Fountain of Youth and haven't aged a day since.  It sounds great, doesn't it?  But for the Tuck family, it's not. While they don't have to meet the ultimate fate that befalls all of mankind - death - they also don't get to live fulfilling lives.  

“You can't have living without dying," they explain. "So you can't call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road.”  And that is how the Tuck's live.  They can't go into town too often or people will recognize them and wonder why they don't age!  They can't get married because people will find out their anti-aging secret and get suspicious!  And while they themselves go through life unchanged, their other friends pass on, and the Tuck's are lonely.  

This is obvious when ten-year-old Winnie goes wandering into her family's forest and almost drinks from the fountain when seventeen-year-old Jesse Tuck stops her. Despite their age difference, Jesse tries to persuade Winnie to drink from the fountain when she turns seventeen so that the two can get married and stay young together forever.  Meanwhile, the Tuck family sweeps her away on their horse to tell her the story about the fountain when a devious man in a yellow suit overhears their story and plots to capitalize on the Fountain of Youth.  His first order of business:  Reveal Winnie's whereabouts to her worried-sick family in exchange for their forest. The deal is set, but when the man in the yellow suit approaches the Tuck household to "save" Winnie, Mae Tuck takes her husband's gun and kills the man in the yellow suit.  Because he brought the town's constable with him, he is witness to the crime, and Mae's punishment is to be hung.  But if she is hanged, the whole world will find out her secret.  

I like Tuck Everlasting for many reasons:  It showcases a relatable main character coming-of-age and going through many changes with conflicting opinions; it causes readers to question if the Tucks are really crazy (which I believe they are, though I suppose anyone would be with eternal life); and it illustrates an empathetic young girl with a thoughtful head on her shoulders.  

Throughout her time with the Tuck's, Winnie has diverse feelings, from feeling mistreated by the crazy kidnappers who had no right to take her from her family to feeling that they are her friends.  At times, she wonders if the Tuck's are crazy.  At times, I wondered if they were crazy!  Certainly, they were lonely, bored, wistful.  And these things certainly may have drove them a little crazy, but by the end of the novel, Winnie has decided that the Tuck's are indeed her friends after all.  

I especially enjoyed the final event of the novel with Winnie showing compassion for a friend and heeding the advice offered by her "crazy" friends.  I don't like to reveal spoilers, but I found her actions to be heart-warming.  Years later, the response of the Tuck family is heart-wrenching and illustrates how painful eternal life could be. 

While reading, I couldn't help but wonder what the Tuck's would be doing today! Would they have learned how to drive cars?  What would their occupations be?  It would be interesting to pose these questions to students and have them extend this story to reveal a modern-day version of the Tuck family. 

Tuck Everlasting is an unforgettable story for me that has been turned into a Disney movie and even a musical.  According to the ALA, "it should have won a Newbery," but even though it didn't, it still has the power to transform lives.  For more information about Natalie Babbit, including a book list and interview, click here.  To check out Tuck Everlasting, visit your local library.   

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