“The Great Gilly Hopkins” by Katherine Paterson
Genre: Children’s fiction
Source: Library book sale
Summary from Amazon:
The one thing Gilly wants is a home of her own. If only she could find her mother, Courtney, and live with her. Instead, she finds herself in yet another ugly foster home, the responsibility of frumpy Maime Trotter, who is almost illiterate. How can the great Gilly Hopkins be expected to tolerate Maime, or a freaky foster brother named William Ernest? Or the poetry-loving black man who lives next door but is considered part of the “family”?
At first Gilly despises them all. Then she finds herself being slowly drawn into their circle of love. But if there’s anything her short life has taught her, it’s that a person’s got to be tough. Determined not to care, Gilly engineers her own rescue. Unfortunately the rescue doesn’t turn out the way Gilly plans and she realizes too late that she never really wanted to be rescued at all – she just wanted to be wanted.
I haven’t read this book in a really long time. Since elementary school? Possibly middle school? As a result I didn’t remember much about the book. I just knew I enjoyed it as a kid. I was impressed that I still enjoyed this book as an adult. Some books lose their “magic” when you revisit them with a different frame of reference.
Possibly because I’m fuddy-duddy but I was pretty shocked at the language/content in this book. I don’t remember the language being bad when I read it as a kid. Obviously it’s not swearing because it is a kid’s book but the racism, name calling, and other language is a bit intense. Especially for a book that teachers and parents enjoy and want kids to read!
I get why the author wrote Gilly that way. Paterson wants you to see that Gilly is a brat. Bravo ma’am because there was nothing I wanted to do more than wash that child’s mouth out with soap and put some sense into her! At the same time, I get why Gilly acted that way. If I were shuffled from home to home and felt like no one really wanted me, I would probably act that way too. That was very nicely done.
I had mixed feelings about the ending. On one hand, I thought it was done well. Not every story gets a happy ending. Things never end the way we want them to end and that’s fine. That’s life. [I would say ‘I wish more stories did that’ but I don’t. Sometimes we need happy endings to keep that spark of optimism alive but that’s a discussion for another time.] My problem with the ending was how quickly Gilly changed. To me it felt like it was a really quick transformation from “I hate it” to “Don’t let them take me!”. Of course I realize ~150 pages is a short story and it’s probably hard to flesh out some aspects in that short of space.
The bottom line? It’s a charming story, that definitely has some rough edges, for children and adults alike.