I’m having a lot of trouble deciding what to say about my latest Top 100 Chapter Books list read, The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978) by Katherine Paterson, because I have had so many thoughts about it since I finished listening to the story about a week ago. I went back to Betsy’s post about the book and it did help me understand a bit of where the story came from.
What it’s about: Gilly, real name Galadriel Hopkins, was abandoned by her mother to the foster system when she was a baby. She has been through a string of foster homes in her eleven years, all with faults, some worse than others. The latest one is with a widow named Trotter and a foster boy named William Ernest. With all of the emotional damage Gilly has collected over the years, will she be able to open her heart when she is finally placed with good people?
Age level: Grades 5-8
Best part: The change in Gilly’s views on African-Americans and Trotter and William Ernest through the book and the incorporation of a Wordsworth poem into the story.
Worst part: Gilly’s horrid words (and the author’s) about Trotter’s weight, her words about William Ernest (repeatedly calling him a retard), and her use of the “n” word (I assume it was originally written in the book — the audiobook just had a blank pause where it would have been and I would guess it has been taken out in later editions). Also, her stealing from a blind neighbor, her birth mother’s actions, and Trotter’s final words about happiness. Even at the end, I never really came to like Gilly either — which is a problem.
Okay. So, this is the fourth book that I’ve given a “skip” in the 70+ I’ve read. Two were by Judy Blume and were written in the early 1970s and two were by Katherine Paterson and were written in the late 70s. I’m conceding defeat as far as these authors go. I would have given this a full on skip if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so honest about what it must feel like to be a foster kid. And, in fact, the book was written after Paterson’s own experience as a foster parent and that authenticity comes through.
There is a movie version that is being released this month with Kathy Bates as Trotter. I’m not sure if it’s being done as a period piece because, honestly, you would have to take out much of Gilly’s racism because it is frankly unacceptable these days and her punishments for the things she does (like mocking her African-American teacher’s looks in a homemade greeting card) would be far more severe. Also, the fat-shaming of Trotter is annoying and unacceptable. Not only does Gilly think of her as a hippopotamus but one of the scenes is written around a flu-weakened Trotter falling on top of Gilly and squishing her. I would only hope that this would be taken out of the story as well because it’s awful. And her treatment of the gentle but slow William Ernest makes me want to vomit in anger. Also, the way she finally bonds with him is to teach him to fight. Blech. I just loathed so much of this story. It’s a product of a decade that wasn’t one of America’s finest.
My next post will be a couple of days early because of BBAW but luckily Flipped is a really short (and hopefully fun) book — although it’s a YA romance so I’m guessing that it probably doesn’t even belong on a middle grade chapter book list. Sigh. Okay, now I’m REALLY looking forward to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!