Title: Tuck Everlasting
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc
Audience: Written for ages 9 -12, but this review suggests the book’s applicability to both young and mature audiences.
Summary: The story starts with a young girl, Winnie, fed up with her family and wanting to run away. She meets another family, the Tucks, in the woods near her home who whisk her away because she has discovered something that only they know about, a hidden spring a the center of the wood. During this abduction, they tell her that she must never drink from nor even tell anyone about the spring and their story. Many years ago the Tucks came to settle there and each one, mother Mae, father Tuck, and their two sons Miles and Jesse, drank from the spring. After living there for a few years they began to notice something odd about their lives. They weren’t getting any older and each one survived what should have been fatal accidents (falling from a tree, hit by stray gunshot). Winnie wasn’t sure what to make of the story but she discovered she liked these strange people, and they promised they’d return her to her home once they were sure she understood why this must be kept secret. Meanwhile Winnie’s family were frantically searching for her with the help of another stranger, identified only as the man in the yellow suit, who had a peculiar interest in finding her kidnappers, which he eventually did. When he attempted to force Winnie back home, she resisted. Mae Tuck came to her defense with a shotgun, and in the ensuing tussle, delivered a fatal blow to the stranger’s head just as the town constable arrived on the scene. Winnie was returned to her family and Mae was taken into custody for murder and sentenced to hang. Only Winnie and the Tucks understood the horrible implications of this sentence. Mae could not die, no matter how long she hung from the gallows. Winnie sought out the Tucks again and together they devised a plan to break Mae out of jail. In a suspenseful climatic scene, they execute a masterful escape and that was the last Winnie ever saw of the Tuck family. The story ends many years later when the Tucks return to the area to learn the fate of their little accomplice.
Literary Elements: An allegory on the meaning of life’s impermanence, the story hovers between reality and fantasy set in the rural midwest sometime in the mid 19th century. Improbable as the plot may seem, the characters are palpably real. Winnie is curious, restless, and compassionate. The Tucks have a melancholy wisdom born of their resignation to an endless life. The villain in the yellow suit also knows the secret of the spring and has a sinister scheme for appropriating it to enrich himself. Winnie’s well-meaning but clueless parents and the fat old constable are made vividly familiar through narrative and dialogue. Even a soft brown toad has a significant role. The narrative is superbly crafted with intense sensory imagery, most exquisite in a scene on the pond next to the Tuck household where father explains to Winnie the significance of what has happened to his family. “The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the surface of the pond like color spilled from a paintbox,” a photographic simile that a child could understand.
Theology: Tuck uses the pond to teach Winnie something that very few people, young or old, can comprehend. “Life. Moving, growing, changing, never the same two minutes together. This water, you look out at it every morning and it looks the same but it ain’t. All night long it’s been moving, coming in through the stream back there to the west, slipping out through the stream down east there…” He explains how the water evaporates and forms clouds and rains and fills the pond again. Then he drifts the boat into the branches of a partially submerged fallen tree. “That’s what us Tucks are, Winnie. Stuck so’s we can’t move on…And everywhere around us, things is moving and growing and changing. You, for instance. A child now, but some day a woman, and after that moving on to make room for new children.” Having already considered drinking from the spring, Winnie protested, “I don’t want to die,” but Tuck patiently puts it into perspective. Everybody thinks they want to live forever, but if they could they’d surely change their minds. Forever is forever. What this means becomes chillingly clear when Mae is sentenced to what would become endless brutal suffering. Profound truths and questions about the meaning of life and death lurk in the pages of this unusual story.
The author provides thoughtful literature circle questions at the end of the story, although none of them are theological. Here are a few suggestions:
- How is the encounter between Winnie and the Tuck boy like the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis?
- In what ways is Mae like Jesus? In what ways is she not like Jesus?
- Does the man in the yellow suit remind you of anyone or anything in the Bible? Why?
- Why do you think God didn’t create people so they would live forever?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Susan Wills
Tuck Everlasting by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.