I have to admit, I have a weakness for coming of age stories, but few authors can capture the spirit of a region as Rawlings does in her classic story. Jody Baxter has lived near the Florida Everglades all his life with his parents. Hardened by having lost so many children to illness, Ma Baxter is strict and aloof with twelve year old Jody. Pa (Penny) Baxter, however, indulges his son, looking the other way when chores are not completed. Indeed, they are best friends and enjoy hunting and farming together. They even visit their raucous neighbors, the Forresters, whose meals more resemble a bar room brawl than a family gathering.
Pa Baxter understands that every boy wants a pet. When he kills a doe (in order to use its liver to remove snake poison from his arm) he agrees that Jody should raise its orphaned fawn. Jody and “Flag” grow-up together, but it soon becomes evident that Flag will never lose his wild nature. Both Jody and his father are faced with tough decisions for which Jody’s carefree childhood did not prepare him.
Young teens are in for a good dose of reality with this Pullitzer Prize winning novel. The Baxter family’s destitution may shock some young readers who are accustomed to modern conveniences, and Rawlings does not shy away from other tough topics, such as the death of children (including Jody’s favorite playmate). Difficult circumstances and tragedy force Jody to grow-up, but his story also contains the joys and laughter of friendship and a close relationship with a loving father. Written in the dialect of the post-Civil War Florida Scrub, this novel may challenge some readers. However, many will find that with a little effort, they can enjoy the simplicity and homeliness of the book’s characters and setting.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.