I never knew of this story until I was a junior in college (circa early 2007). My roommate and I were laying in our beds watching tv and the trailer for the movie adaptation came on. She groaned when she watched the commercial and mentioned that she wasn't sure she wanted to see the movie. I was confused, the trailer looked amazing, why wouldn't she want to see it? "Well, it's just a really sad and upsetting book towards the end. It made me cry."
I didn't really believe her, I mean, this was a Disney movie, right? It had to be cheerful and happy. When the movie came out on DVD my parents bought it and I began to watch it with a friend during my senior years fall break. We were on the couch about midway through when I got a text message saying a friend of mine had died.
I stayed as far away from the movie after that as I could. It took me a year until I was able to convince myself to watch the movie to the end and I cried and cried. Not only was the movie sad (as predicted) but it reminded me of my friend. Another year has passed and here I am again- this time finally reading this children's classic that I had somehow managed to avoid having on a required reading list in school.
And I cried. Not only because, yes, it was sad towards the end but because it was so beautifully written.
Meet Jess Aarons. He's the only boy in his household (other then his father) and is sometimes seen as a nuisance and simply a helping hand around his fathers farm. Every morning he wakes up early to go running through the cow pasture. His goal: to be the fastest kid in his school. Aside from doing this every morning then being heckled by his older sisters and mother, working the farm, and trying to avoid his tag-along little sister, he hides away when he can to do what he is passionate for: draw. But this is all a secret because long ago Jess learned that no boy would be considered a man if he spent his time doing such a feminine thing as drawing. Ashamed of his passion he keeps his art supplies hidden under his mattress.
On the first day of school he loses the recess activity of running to see who is the fastest boy- to a girl. This is completely mind blowing to Jess because not only did this girl do a boys sport but she also dresses like a boy.
Here are two characters: Jess, a young boy and Leslie, a young girl- who have characteristics that are complete opposites of what the stereotypical boy and girl should be. Paterson does a wonderful job at creating two lovable characters who step away from the conventional forms set upon us by society and proving that you can be 'different' and that's okay.
Not only that but Paterson, in a heartbreakingly beautiful end, introduces the emotional toll of ones first experience with death. For a child reading this book, this might be there introduction to the concept of death, being young enough to not have yet experienced it first hand. Paterson weaves through the emotions felt when losing someone close. The anger, the confusion, the blank empty feelings, the complete and utter sadness. But as with real life, it goes on. Time passes. The hurt lessens but the memory is always there. The person stays with you as you move along even if it is only in the mind and heart.
This book is a tearjerker. It's incredibly sad but it is so well done, so beautiful, I can understand it's popularity.