Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: Tuck Everlasting

Originally published on June 16, 2012.

Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting has been on my radar for a long time as one of those books that I "should have" read. It seems to have been a staple of many people's late elementary or middle school years, and in my librarian classes, it's one of those books that people always fall back on by way of illustrating a point. Somehow it never made my childhood reading list, though, so I finally decided to remedy that.

In this story, 11-year-old Winnie Foster happens upon a 17-year-old stranger (Jesse Tuck) in the woods outside her house. She sees him drinking from an underground stream and says she wants a drink too. To her surprise, he reacts with extreme concern, telling her never to touch the water. She asks why, and before she knows it, Jesse's mother and brother have abducted her, running her away on their horse, promising to tell her the whole story as soon as they reach somewhere safe. The story that they tell is even stranger than their behavior: Over 80 years ago, they passed through those woods and drank from that stream. Since then, none of them have aged, and no matter what horrible accidents befall them, they cannot be killed or even injured. They take Winnie to their house and explain to her why being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be--in fact, it's an aberration of the natural course of things. And this is why no one else must ever know the secret of the stream or drink from its waters.

In the one day that she spends with them, sheltered little Winnie comes to love the entire Tuck family. In spite of their immortality, they live simply, and in spite of the wisdom of the ages, they are essentially innocent. When Winnie is returned to her own family, she has a choice to make--should she drink from the spring and live forever (perhaps with the Tucks?), or should she keep their secret and live out her natural life quietly?

Even though it's a little on the old side (published in 1975, and set about 80 years before that) I think this would be a great book for classroom discussion in middle school. It's a simple story, not hard to read, and raises some very interesting questions. If you had the chance to live forever, would you take it? And if you had forever ahead of you, how would you live? Mr. and Mrs. Tuck have a different answer to this than either of their sons. And does morality somehow change when you have forever to deal with the consequences of your actions?

I'm sure that I would have loved this book if I had read it when I was in, say, 6th grade myself. I'd definitely recommend it to a student of approximately that age. But while I can reread and still adore a lot of the books I first read in that era of my life (The Westing Game, or Lloyd Alexander's "Prydain" series, or anything by Madeline L'Engle), this one wasn't all that captivating as adult. Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd read it back then and reading it now felt like returning to a comfortable old friend, but as it is, I mostly just felt "meh" about the reading of this book. Nothing too captivating for an adult first-time reader, but nothing to dislike either. So if you're an adult and have never read Tuck Everlasting before, I'll sadly report that it's probably too late for you to get huge enjoyment out of this book. If you have a middle schooler in your life, though, definitely put this book in their hands, and enjoy the contemplations and conversations that will follow!

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