Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

No Series


Growing up in the Ozark Mountains of northeastern Oklahoma, Billy Colman wants nothing more than to own the pair of coonhound pups he saw advertised in a sportsman's magazine. Although the sum is tremendous, Billy is determined, and after two years of hard work and saving, the two puppies become his.

Billy's pups are his "shadow," following his every move through the dark hills and icy river bottoms in search of the elusive raccoons. The three gain a fine reputation as an inseparable team when they win the coveted gold cup in the annual coon-hunt contest, capture the deceptive ghost coon, and, in the most difficult battle of all, put up a fierce struggle against a mountain lion.

But the victory over the mountain lion turns to tragedy, and Billy's days of freedom and innocent boyhood rapidly end. Yet much remains for Billy: he not only has his wonderful memories, but he learns a beautiful old Indian legend which gives them sacred meaning.

As it has for generations, this modern classic is sure to warm the hearts of young and old alike.

“I had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern. How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death. In the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their two bodies. The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, and that they never died; where one grew, that spot was sacred.”

A young boy dreams of having pets of his own – wait, scratch that to mean dogs of his own because technically they already have a pet cat Sammy. I’m thinking Sammy doesn’t matter much to the family since the dad laughs at the cat limping with injured paws when he accidentally keeps getting his paws injured from Billy’s trap. At least he gets bandaged, but Sammie soon abandons the family when he develops a fear of people (go figure).

The first part of the book is Billy saving up money and working hard to get dogs – not for companionship at first, but hunting partners – and eventually he succeeds in getting both of his goals met – dogs and training them to be strong hunters. Seriously the book has so little plot that I was bored most of the time. It’s an endless cycle of Billy and his dogs hunting down poor raccoons and other animals in the valley. Besides disturbing, it doesn’t hold the interest.

Throw in two tragedies and an unrealistic reward of money that fits the parents goals, and you have this book. Plotless, it isn't a coming of age story, it's a boy who wants dogs so he can hunt raccoons.

There isn’t character development. The mother’s role in the book is to worry about her son being placed into so many dangerous situations while still letting him go into more dangerous situations. The “sisters” are mentioned all the time as being backdrops to cry on demand when they’re upset – but they don’t earn the respect of getting any names or individual personalities. I guess the girls are too alike to bother.

The end tragedy is of course sad but hardly a surprise. What happens is a realistic consequence of having hunting dogs that you keep placing in dangerous situations. What bugged me is the author took the religious tones of the books to an unhealthy level with the father being especially annoying - Spoilers for the end - (view spoiler by highlighting) 

[When Billy and dogs achieved their goals of killing animals or escaping animals, they praised God. When the tragedy strikes, he’s angry at God and wondering why it happened. The parents could have taken this chance to talk about the life of training hunting dogs, consequences for people’s actions, but instead the father says one of the stupidest explanations and twists I’ve seen – that God must have allowed his dogs to be killed because the parents are moving and were going to leave Billy and the dogs behind with his grandfather, and God doesn’t like separating families, so he allowed this tragedy to happen to the dogs so Billy could go with his parents. Yeah, that.]

Of course we get the "man speech" too, which grates me.

Not seeing why the book is a praised classic. I'm leaving it two stars over one because the writing style is actually good and I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia during the opener. Two thumbs down from me.

   Book Quotes:

“I suppose there's a time in practically every young boy's life when he's affected by that wonderful disease of puppy love. I don't mean the kind a boy has for the pretty little girl that lives down the road. I mean the real kind, the kind that has four small feet and a wiggly tail, and sharp little teeth that can gnaw on a boy's finger; the kind a boy can romp and play with, even eat and sleep with.”

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