Ten-year-old Winnie Foster is frustrated with her boring, respectable life. Her mother and grandmother never let her do anything. It’s the first week of August and Winnie can’t even sit in her front yard telling her troubles to a toad without them worrying about her staining her stockings or getting heat stroke.
More than anything Winnie wants a chance to be by herself and do something all her own–something that will make some kind of difference in the world. Winnie isn’t exactly sure what that something would be, but she knows it would be interesting. And she knows the first step is leaving home, even if it is just for a little while.
Running away from home proves much simpler than Winnie expected, at least until she enters the woods next to her house and stumbles upon a spring with very unusual water. And a family claiming they drank from the spring 87 years ago and haven’t aged a day since. She soon finds herself caught up in the unbelievable lives of this family, the Tucks, as they try to show Winnie the importance of keeping this enormous secret. Not talking about the spring is one thing, but given a chance to live forever, will Winnie be able to forget about it all together in Tuck Everlasting (1975) by Natalie Babbitt?
Tuck Everlasting is widely, and probably fairly, viewed as a classic. Because the novel is set so far in the past (1880) it is also fairly timeless. All the same, it was deeply irritating for me that Winnie was only ten years old*. She sounded older and much of her behavior felt older. The immediate infatuation she and Jesse Tuck share makes very little sense to this modern reader when Winnie is a mere ten years old and Jesse is seventeen (or 104 depending on how you look at it).
The ending also seemed unbearably melancholy. The fantasy genre is filled with immortals and fountains of youth. But never have I encountered any as isolated and alone as the Tucks. The idea that they live on after the end of the book indefinitely, unable to ever really connect with anyone in a proper sense, is crushing.
That is not to say that Tuck Everlasting lacks charm. The story goes by quickly and is often quite fun. Babbitt clearly wanted to say specific things with the story about life–eternal or not. Which she did. It’s just that the particular devices she used to make her points made parts of the book problematic.
*In the movie adaptation Winnie is actually fifteen instead of ten. I saw trailers for the movie before reading the book which might have created a bias, but it just makes more sense to me with Winnie being a few years older.
Possible Pairings: The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones, Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli