A friend recommended Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting as a good children’s literature choice. Having blazed through it in two days, I can say that it was a satisfying if short read. The basic premise of the novel is this: there is a spring that grants immortality, discovered by the Tuck family and, a short way into the book, by Winnie Foster. Winnie, the novel`s young narrator, is lonely in her “touch-me-not” cottage with its high fence and over-protective parents. The one day she decides to run away, she happens to run into a young Jessie Tuck at the fountain and his parents then kidnap her in order to explain their dilemma. Talking, lots of rich description of a pastoral American landscape, and some nefarious action courtesy of a lean man in a yellow suit ensues.
Tuck Everlasting is a fable in the sense that it meditates on a moral situation: what are the implications of living forever. Of course, Babbitt’s book is too long to be a traditional fable and there are no talking animals here. The moral itself is even more complicated than a simple didactic one-liner like: cheating death is cheating life. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the book lacked something deeper than this interesting philosophical problem: what do you do if you live forever? Jessie, his brother MIles, and their parents all talk to Winnie about their century-long immortality. While Jessie, the youngest brother, clearly enjoys his ability to travel the world and have adventures, the parents provide a much more somber response. At a certain point, Winnie even notices the father looking enviously at a character who is dying. I felt that the complexities of immortality/mortality where well-handled in the book, hence why I call it a satisfying read. Don’t expect a profound meditation on mortality, but there is a strong element of deep thought at work.
I call Tuck Everlasting short because it is quite short (139 small pages). The plot moves quickly and Babbitt makes use of a surprising twist that manages to elevate the narrative out of a fable’s simplicity. However, I did feel like the novel comes close to being bare-bones. The landscape is set in a kind of pastoral America (at least I think it is the States given Babbitt’s own American identity – it could be anywhere I guess), Winnie’s family comes across as stuck-up, over-protective, and yet also naive. The Tucks are the only real characters possessing depth and individuality. I felt like Winnie herself was somewhat unappealing as a narrator. All of this to say that I found the novel only satisfying. Call it damning a book by lukewarm praise. I think this may have been a case of a children’s book being just that: a book for children that will leave more mature readers wanting more.
I recommend this book for young readers.
Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting. New York: Square Fish, 1975. Print.