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As I was browsing my parents’ bookshelf the other day, I came across a 1945 copy of The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. I think that old books are awesome, so I decided to read this short novel.
Jody lives on a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California with his parents and Billy, a ranch hand. Jody’s father is a controlling dictator, but Billy connects with Jody in a way that his father cannot. When Jody wants a pony, Billy does all he can to ensure that he gets one.
For some reason, I did not think critically about the story before starting. This will be a fun story about a pony, right? I forgot to take into account that John Steinbeck was the author!! No, no, no–this did not turn into a cute and heartwarming pony story. Stupid me for even thinking that it would.
If you’re familiar with Steinbeck’s other works, you’ll know that he tells sad, often depressing stories. Life is hard in his books and this one is no different. Jody, the main character, has some real set-backs in his childhood. As the reader, you have to read between the lines to see how he’s coping with those challenges and how they ultimately affect him.
One question I want answered: What happens to Nellie’s colt??? And the old paisano?? Steinbeck leaves you in the lurch, guessing about what happened to these characters whom you thought would be important plot elements. Oh well–I guess his novels are unpredictable, just like real life.
There are definitely some deep thoughts, feelings, and life lessons to ponder in this novel. I don’t know if elementary-age kids will really grasp it all, or if they’ll just think it’s a depressing story. I came away with a sense of how bleak life is and that our actions are ultimately futile and unimportant. Steinbeck may have been saying something different–but that was my impression.
I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading classic literature and would like a fuller knowledge of Steinbeck’s work. I’m not sure that the average reader would enjoy this book.
- A handful of curse words (d-word & J.C.)
Rating: 3 Stars
Until next time…