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Title: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Notable: Newbery Honor Book, 1979
Gilly Hopkins is in foster care and about to enter a new home. She wants nothing more than for her mother to swoop in and reclaim her, but alas, it’s not to be. Gilly’s new home is with a large, motherly woman named Trotter and her foster son, William Ernest. Gilly’s prejudices come to the forefront when she realizes that she’ll be expected to interact closely with African Americans, and when she passes judgment on Trotter and W. E. Eventually though, Gilly realizes that sometimes our dreams aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and making the best of our current situation can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
This is a really intense book! Don’t expect to sit down and just float through it like you’re riding on a big, fluffy cloud. Paterson doesn’t take shortcuts with her characters and she’s definitely not afraid of giving them flaws. The main character, Gilly, is one of the most judgmental kids you’ll ever meet in a story, but it’s hard not to root for her. She’s so miserably unhappy, that Gilly spews her vitriol on everyone around her, picking out traits in others to belittle and make fun of.
She doesn’t like Trotter because she’s overweight; she doesn’t like W. E. because she thinks he’s stupid; she doesn’t like her neighbor or new teacher because they’re black. In all of these relationships, we see Gilly gradually progress into a new understanding about who they are. She comes to value each of them and realizes that love and acceptance are possible with people who are different, and not part of your nuclear family. She never thought she’d come to love these people, but they found a way to infiltrate her heart. There is no easy fairy-tale ending to the story, but readers are left with the message that we should make the best of our situation in life and look for joy and contentment in what we have today.
As a parent, I have to warn you about the offensive bits in this story. I wouldn’t want my younger child picking it up and thinking that it’s okay to copy Gilly’s language. She uses totally inappropriate phrases to talk about Trotter, W. E., Mr. Randolph and Ms. Harris. In one part the n-word is very clearly implied. By the end of the book, Gilly’s language has become much tamer, but a child has to be old enough to realize that Gilly’s language is not something to emulate.
I recommend The Great Gilly Hopkins to those who enjoy coming of age novels which tug at your heart strings and are kind of edgy.
- Offensive language (degrading those who are obese, African American, have special needs, etc.)
- Mild epithets (d-word & hell)
Rating: 4 Stars
Until next time…