All my friends and relatives and kids have led me to wonderful books. These are just a few that Erin Moffat has brought to me and one that I brought to her.
The Great Gilly Hopkins – Katherine Paterson
Gilly is a foster child that has been shuffled from one home to another. She’s funny. She’s brash, she’s tough, she’s a scrapper. But that’s just her veneer. She has to protect herself from all the hurt she has known in her 11 years. Her new foster family is the pits. Mrs. Trapper is strange and fat and her son William Ernest is stranger yet. What Gilly really wants is her “real” mom.
When Gilly’s “real” mom shows up the disappointment is gut churning. “God help the children of the flower children,” Miss Ellis, Gilly’s social worker observes. Gilly’s Mom living the “free spirit” life of the 1960’s hippies, not only abandoned Gilly, but never became an adult herself. Smart as Gilly is, after the the crushing reality sets in, she realizes that real love is what Trapper, William Ernest and blind old Mr.Randolph have been giving her and growing in her all along.
Don’t worry though, even though her tender side eventually catches up to her, she doesn’t get lost. She has a new kind of grit now. And she does’t have to be so tough to be strong.
There was a time in the life of Erin Moffat when she thought she WAS Gilly Hopkins. She read this book when she was about 9 years old and was never quite the same afterwards!
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Set at the forefront of the French Revolution, Dickens travels through every tragic and exulting crevice of the human condition. Dr. Manetee reflects, as he attends to the dying, destitute, young, beauty that has been brutally misused by the rich Evremonde brothers, “There is prodigious strength in sorrow and despair.” Of course sorrow and despair is at the core of the Revolution as the poor are exploited beyond mere human endurance and the rich are oblivious to pain other than the want of their own caprice. Yet again, sorrow and despair creeps into a brutality that marks the revolutionaries toward the aristocracy as the revolutions begins.
Contrasts and dichotomy swing throughout the plots and subplots as do they do in the characters themselves. The famous first line “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…” carries the book to the final scene. As Dickens so well notes, “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”
The secret identities of Dr. Manetee and Charles Darney, the double life of Jerry Crusher, the id and the ego qualities embodied in the relationship between C.J. Stryver and Sydney Carton (and between Charles Darney and Sydney Carton) are only a part of the contrasts and dichotomies that weave themselves through out the book.
Dickens’ layered meanings surrounding The Resurrection plays throughout the honorable and dishonorable qualities of the various characters and in the end, we see redemption woven into the very fabric of this tale of horror and light.
Lucie Manette, is of course, the main beacon of light as “the golden thread” whose presence heals and inspires new life from old.
Sometimes some characters are a bit flat, but the story is not. And the contrasts evoked are worth my paying attention.
“And a beautiful world we live in, when it is possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done– done, see you!– under that sky there, every day.”
I remember lying in bed reading this book aloud to Erin Elizabeth It took a long time and many good discussions. She was about 11 years old at the time, and was inspired by the intrigue of Dr. Manatee’s double life and in his golden haired daughter “to the rescue!”
Catcher in The Rye – J.D. Salinger
So when you are 15 and the world “out there” is more than brutal, and your Mom lets you take one mental health day off from school a year, you stay home sitting on the beige chair in an agony untoward. Then your mom gives you The Catcher in the Rye.
Somehow Holden’s angst and disgust and yearning speak to you and you are not quite so alone.
This coming of age saga rails against the disingenuousness of adults, the more than disappointing quirks of friends and the lostness of childhood. Holden chucks it all to take a bitter sweet odyssey away from all that is expected of him to find some meaning, or truth or substance.
Along the way, he meets with some of life’s grittiness, finds solace in his 10 year old sister, and finally arrives home where he obliquely tells us that he gets better, and that he’s going to try to enter into a new slant on his former life.
Salinger, of course tells it better and funnier and sadder than I do. And every kid who has been miserable in high school should at least pick it up.
Erin thinks at this stage, that Holden needs to “get over it”. But at one time the book spoke to her condition — and to mine and to many other kids trying to negotiate their youth!
Gone With The Wind — Margaret Mitchell
Mitchell begins this epic by painting a picture of the antebellum south with the lush splendor and voluptuous opulence that mirrored European aristocracy. She describes the South in it’s verdant, sultry luxury of the land, the air, the light, and indeed the multi-cast of characters. The rich are dazzlingly rich, and the poor are in casts, not unlike India, that range from the untouchable white trash, to the various ranks of “colored” to the simply boring folks caught in the middle.
Everyone knows the story from the movie, and about Scarlett and Mammy, Melanie, Ashlye (Ick) and Rhett. Melanie was the too sweet weakling and Scarlett was the conquering heroine who used all her wiles to survive. Of course, Melanie was actually strong, and Scarlett is the perpetual woman in red who can out-power those in power. I’m not so very interested in these psychological musings about these fictitious characters.
What fascinates me the most in this book is the Southern view of the Civil War. If you grew up in a state that was “Union” your history was very different than the history that Mitchell projected. And I believe that she was exactly accurate in her telling. For instance, the KKK, for whom I have no respect, did however, become born out of a necessity for protection of women and children in a land where the men no longer had power after the war and during reconstruction.
The sad tragedy of the destruction in the wake of Sherman’s March to The Sea is a gripping tale in the hand of Mitchell, and the parallel, impossible love story between Scarlett and Rhett somehow reflects the despair that irreconcilable differences play in trying to get history and all relationships “right”.
Still it is a story I think about very often. The power in it is timeless. And that is why it is a classic.
I would never have read this book except that Erin loved it so. We have different “takes” on it. But the discussions are always spirited.