This was perhaps the first letter where I really, really had a hard time choosing what to do. It was between Gilly and Grimm’s fairy tales, as they both influenced me a lot, just in different ways. So… I’ll probably do a bonus blog all about fairy tales and mythology once this challenge is over.
Anyway, The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson gave me so many different things. The book is about Gilly, who’s in foster care and goes to live with Maime Trotter, a fat woman with a huge heart, and William Ernest, who’s a younger child in the home and a bit of a sissy. Gilly is mean, and like most foster children who’ve been moved from home to home and been promised things that never happened, is hardened, focused on her fantasy mother, who she believes will save her.
When she gets to Trotter’s home, she does everything she can to escape. But Trotter never gives up on her, and Gilly eventually falls in love and realizes what family really means.
Gilly taught me that people who act mean often do so because they have a story, and that hard shell is mostly just armor. She taught me that when you fight against something too much, you might get something you didn’t bargain for. (Gilly eventually goes to live with her biological grandmother, and then realizes that she wanted to stay with Trotter.)
This book also introduced me to my love of poetry. It contains an excerpt of Ode, by William Wordsworth. I didn’t know it was an excerpt, of course, and it was the first poem that I copied into a notebook and then memorized. Imagine my surprise when I eventually located the poem and found out that it was about four times longer than I thought! I can still recite the excerpt, and it’s still one of my favorites.
I didn’t understand it when I read it (I think I was maybe 11 or 12 at the time), but the poem had a profound effect on me emotionally. I felt it reverberate through my heart in a way that very poems ever have.
I drive my critique partner crazy. He’s firmly in the camp of not adding quotes, poetry, or song lyrics from other people’s work into stories. He feels that the author shouldn’t have to borrow emotional impact.
I do it though, because I remember how, without this book, I probably never would have read this poem. This book is the first of many to not just introduce me to the world in the book, but to broaden my universe beyond it.
Thus began a life-long love affair with poetry. It set me on the path for an empathetic life. Years later, when I worked for CPS and saw hurt and emotionally injured children come through, I remembered this book, remembered Gilly, and it helped me to remember that everyone has a story.
That’s a lot of influence for 148 pages of book.
“Once the tugboat takes you out to the ocean liner, you got to get all the way on board. Can’t straddle both decks.”
— Katherine Patterson