When I was in third grade, I started reading books faster than anyone could put them in my hands. Weekly trips to the school library were too far apart to keep me in books, and my teacher knew it. At the end of the year, she gave me a copy of Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and suggested I give it a try over summer vacation. I read the first few pages and never opened it again. I wasn’t enthralled by the book and both the cover and premise seemed boring. (The new cover is no more exciting, perhaps, but it is prettier. I’d like to think I would have read it if it had this cover.) I felt guilty about it every time I say the book sitting on my bookshelf, but I never read the book nor returned it. In an effort to give something old a fair try (and because the library had a copy on the shelf when I was there last), I suggested we choose Tuck Everlasting as our read aloud book after Christmas. As of this week, I finally finished the book I started reading over twenty years ago.
The story follows Winifred Foster as she meets a family with the most unusual story: they claim to be immortal thanks to water from a freshwater spring near Winnie’s house. A mysterious man in a yellow suit is in town looking for the Tucks, and the Tucks do everything they can to convince Winifred to keep their secret. On the surface, that’s all there is to the story. The way Babbitt weaves the pieces of the story together, however, is what really makes it special.
I asked my third grader tonight if he liked the book. He said he did, although it wasn’t what he expected: “Even though there’s magic in the book, it felt more real than the books I usually read.” I think he hit the nail on the head with that description. Tuck Everlasting is written in a very realistic style. I did not find it overly slow or ponderous, but I’m not eight years old anymore. I think the writing may have been one of the things that turned me off all those years ago. It made for a great book to read aloud, though. Each chapter is relatively short, and the flowery prose is broken up by plenty of dialogue and suspense.
We groan in protest when it’s time to put down some books for the day. Tuck Everlasting was never that book. That said, I realized I was enjoying it more than I originally thought when I found myself reading ahead while the kids moved on to other activities. I read the ending a full three days early because I couldn’t wait any longer.
I found myself thinking about the Tucks today, wondering what it would be like to be forever frozen in time. Would I prefer to be like Jesse, stuck with the body (and appetite) of a teenager forever? Or would I enjoy the relative anonymity of an older face: easier to hide the fact that I’m not aging just a bit longer? It’s hard to think of longing for death, but Babbitt did a fantastic job imagining what a family who will never die might think or feel.
I would recommend this to: a reader with a bit of patience (probably 8+), with extra emphasis on its strength as a book read aloud.