Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Some very adult themes here – namely death – which is perhaps why this book didn’t appeal to me when I was ten. Not only is this a coming of age book, but it is a grappling-with-thy-mid-life-crisis book as well.

When do we face our own mortality? What happens when we do realize that life is going to stop for every single one of us someday? Not just know it, but know it in your soul. Death lies in wait. Hopefully when he comes it will be when you are ready to meet him and not before, but there is no assurance of that.

Tuck Everlasting makes a point of illustrating the Wheel of Life, the natural way of birth and living and dying.

Some of my earliest memories are death-related. A friend of my parent’s – his death by drowning and his funeral; the grief of his wife. My grandfather’s funeral with the open casket. “He just looks like he’s asleep,” my father assured me. Even then I knew that what I was about to see was supposed to be something we draw away from.

But death is natural, and living forever isn’t. This is heavy stuff for a children’s book. Natalie Babbitt has written a complex story that is deceptively simple. I love the richness of her description and her flawless portrayal of a child confronted for the first time by the mystery of life and death. What does it mean to live? What does it mean to die? You can’t have one without the other Tuck says, but that is just what the Tuck’s have: Life. Forever. No death. How exhausting would it be to live forever? How futile would everything seem with no limits, no end, no constraints? How meaningless everything must become.

The sadness of their fate pulls at my heart even though I know that this story could never actually happen. I suppose it is because I know that there are many, many different ways to avoid living your life – I have tried a few of them without any success, thank god.

Dying is at the end of everything, but the end is not anything I’m worried about. I made my peace with death years ago.

I suppose, when my time comes I feel something like Henry Ward Beecher when he famously said on his deathbed in 1887: “Now comes the mystery.” It’s true. No one knows what lies ahead of us, but we know where we are now.

This book contains that message. Live presently. Live in the now.

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Filed under Children, Coming-of-Age Books, Fantasy

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