This is a classic.
I chose it from a third grade reading list, to read out to my son at bedtime. I had read it—finally, as an adult—maybe fifteen years prior, but had basically forgotten the entire thing. When I started reading, though, the basic feeling came back to me, and I was in the Ozarks, hunting coon, even though I still couldn’t remember what would happen. It felt ominous (for reasons you will understand when you read this).
This will never be my favorite book, but that’s largely because it has so very much to do with boys and hunting and creatures… and has such moments of amazing sadness. I am a woman who does not hunt and has no remarkable affinity for any non-human creatures. My son, on the other hand, fit very tidily into these categories. I was not sure he would like it, being only nine and the book being so very heavy, but he loved it. He would even read it again, and I can say that of exactly three books up until this point.
It is really heavy. There’s just no getting around that. It is serious and sad and tragic and hopeful and tedious and gory and realistic. It includes poverty and manslaughter among hunting, family, masculinity, peer relationships, nature, animals, and of course, dog as man’s best friend.
This book is an onion of a story, with layer after layer of things to read and analyze and talk about. It’s also a beautifully told story, except for the cliché bit where the narrator steps out of the story for the beginning and end. (At the time of writing, it might have been more innovative, I don’t know.) You definitely feel like you are there, in the Ozarks, and you know this boy and you know what it’s like to be him, and you really know those dogs as well. Besides the repetition of some of the words (and how much the boy cries), the language has moments of beauty, as well, especially when describing nature, which is done often. As for describing people, Rawls keeps it wonderfully sparse.
This book is a must-read for anyone who loves literature. It appeals especially to growing boys, but would also be great for men and animal-lovers and, well, you never know: it’s one of my sister’s all-time favorite books and you would never guess it.
I read Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, published in 1961 and re-published by Yearling Books in 2016.