An 11-year-old piano student of mine enthusiastically recommended I read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. She was so excited while describing the book, I had to stop her so I wouldn't hear any spoilers. I love that! Originally published in 1975, this novel is geared for ages 10 and up. How did I miss out on this book as a kid?!
What a captivating story! It takes place in the summertime, late 1880's. The main character, Winnie, is an only child with helicopter parents (and grandmother) who won't allow her to leave the yard by herself. One day she can no longer ignore that natural desire to branch out and explore; she breaks the rule, crossing the street to investigate the woods her family owns. Babbitt paints the scenery of the town and its outlying areas vividly. I was reminded of all the fun I had when I was Winnie's age, exploring the woods behind my own house. I felt sorry that Winnie wasn't allowed to have the same adventures.
The book has a great pace. At the start, the boredom Winnie felt during the hot summer days in her front yard were well-portrayed. By the time she left the yard and headed for the woods, I was feeling a bit stifled myself and was cheering her on. Once Winnie met the Tuck family, the story picked up and moved pretty quickly.
I did find it a little odd that Winnie felt such a strong, close connection to the Tucks after only a couple of days, considering the friendship starts out with them kidnapping her. On the other hand, I think Winnie realized from the start that they were good people who had something of the utmost importance to tell her. She was always listening to and trusting her own instincts; I appreciate seeing that trait in young protagonists.
The wellspring of eternal life, that concept of immortality, presented an opportunity for the novel to approach the cycle of life and death. Babbitt does this gently and with sensitivity. There is a lovely scene when Tuck explains, "It's a wheel, Winnie. Everything's a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping. The frogs is part of it, and the bugs, and the fish, and the wood thrush, too. And people. But never the same ones. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That's the way it's supposed to be. That's the way it is."
Winnie learns that sometimes you have to break rules to do the right thing, too. (Ummm, they had gallows as punishment back then!) I love that her parents learned to trust her, that they listened to her reasoning and understood. And the ending... I thought it was perfect.
If you didn't read Tuck Everlasting as a kid, like me, you missed out! It's not too late, I enjoyed this as an adult. It's a very quick read, perfect for a rainy afternoon.