The Great Gilly Hopkins
Author: Katherine Paterson
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers Incorporated
Copyright Date: 1978
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Length: 178 pages
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Plot Summary: The Great Gilly Hopkins is a story about a hardened foster child learning to accept love and hardship. At the beginning of the story, Gilly is in the car with social worker Ms. Ellis, who is instructing Gilly to try and behave herself in this home. Gilly, we soon learn, is brilliant, tenacious and disrespectful. As she meets her new foster mother, Trotter, she finds herself sneering at the woman’s faults and mocking the other foster child, William Earnest, for his learning disability. She is sent over to retrieve Mr. Randolph, a blind black man, who she immediately recoils with prejudice. Gilly is determined to make everyone around her miserable and feel inferior. Some of Gilly’s antics include beating up six boys on the playground, teasing W.E. about his reading, and sending her teacher a card with a harsh yet brilliant racial slur In the midst of all of this, Gilly receives a postcard from her mother, telling her that she misses her, wishes Gilly were with her. Gilly clings to this hope, and decides to steal from both Mr. Randolp and Trotter to buy a bus ticket to see her mother. She is caught and taken back by Totter. Gilly eventually absorbs into the family unit and is able to find the love she has so desperately been craving. Unfornately for her, Gilly’s grandmother visits and decides to take GIlly home with her. Gilly finds herself living with her grandmother, and finally realizes that her mother’s declarations of love were false. Gilly, with the encouragement of Trotter decides to tough out her new life and find hope in the hand she has been dealt.
My Reaction: I felt a strong connection to Gilly, having been through hard times of my own. My first reaction to being crushed was to build steel walls around my heart, so I wouldn’t get hurt. This book reminded me of how important it is to not only give love, but to be willing to accept it. I am just now starting to learn what it really means to let others into my life. I have spent so much time isolated and alone. I feel sad, knowing that if I had tried to reach out more, I might have found comfort and healing sooner. I think this book has a lot of hope for children suffering from pain. I also think this book is a great way to help children understand the pain of others. This book helps us see that underneath every angry child is a heart that is worthy of being loved.
Potential Problems: I can definitely see why this book would be controversial. This book is filled with swearing and the Lord’s name used inappropriately. Gilly steals, lies, and resorts to bullying and manipulating. She steals from a blind man and her own foster mother. She is extremely prejudiced towards black people, and people with learning disabilities and obesity. The book alludes to the fact that her mother conceived Gilly out of wedlock.
Recommendation: I would recommend this book to be used in a class around 5th to 6th grade, to help them better understand foster children. I think this book could be introduced to younger children by their parents, to help them develop compassion and understand alternative family situations better.