Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tuck Everlasting

1975, 1995 Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition
Natalie Babbitt
Tuck Everlasting
Bought new for $3.95
Slightly worn paperback

A wistful, bittersweet story about friendship and immortality, this holds up well.  At times it feels like a fairy tale, particularly with its poetic language and archetypal characters, so it's startling to see actual dates on the next to last page.  (And I think that ranks as one of the two greatest stomach-punch-as-you-turn-the-page moments in juvenile/YA literature, the other being in the American edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.)  It's not a perfect book, since the actions of the nameless man in the yellow suit are somewhat implausible.  For one thing, why not just go in the woods and drink from the spring himself, or get a guinea pig?  If he can't find the spring, sneak around some more until a Tuck goes to the spring again.  And he's got Supervillain Syndrome, where he explains his nefarious scheme.

Also, while the Tucks don't have to take the path of the Cullens in the Twilight series (going to high school forever), they certainly could educate themselves more and see immortality as more of an opportunity than a burden.  I understand what Babbitt is saying about the cycle of life, but their choice is different than Winnie's.  As a child, I felt she chose wrongly-- and not just because I don't think she should've burdened the toad with immortality when it had no way to consent or not-- but as an adult, I can understand that she would want a more normal life.  In the Disney adaptation, they made Winnie older, so she has less of a wait till she'd "catch up" with Jesse.  And the crush of a 10-year-old is different than that of a 15-year-old.  It's more believable that she'd grow out of it, especially as her memories of Jesse faded.

Still, there's something about this story that overcomes the problems, including that Winnie's friends are kidnappers, and in the case of Mae, a murderer.  Like the pond on the cover, there's a calm surface with troubling undercurrents, but sometimes you want to float along on this story, going where it takes you.

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