Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

By Maureen Tai, 18 March 2021

The wood was at the center, the hub of the wheel. All wheels must have a hub. A Ferris wheel has one, as the sun is the hub of the wheeling calendar. Fixed points they are, and best left undisturbed, for without them, nothing holds together. But sometimes people find this out too late.

From the Prologue, Tuck Everlasting

I have to remind myself sometimes that when I extoll the virtues of reading “the Classics,” the Great Expectations and Jane Austen that I grew up with are now texts from the mists of antiquity and of absolutely no interest to my modern tween. But we still read together, my thirteen-going-on-eighteen-year old child and I, and we read Tuck Everlasting, as close to a classic as you can get these days. And what a marvellous classic this is.

The dog days of summer, 1880. Ten-year old Winnie Foster is hot, bored and trapped. Her family is a proud, prominent one, living in a touch-me-not cottage on the outskirts of the little village of Treegap. The Fosters own a wood, and within that wood, is a spring that promises riches beyond imagination. But Winnie doesn’t know about that. Not yet anyway.

The little girl isn’t allowed out, and she isn’t allowed to do much. But after chance encounters with a toad and a mysterious man in a yellow suit, and hearing the tinkling notes of music coming from the woods, Winnie is, for the first time in her young life, tempted to wander out on her own without permission. Flushed with fear and excitement, she heads into the woods where she stumbles across a breathtakingly beautiful young man, drinking water from a hidden spring. Jesse Tuck as he is called, tells her that he is 104 years old, before correcting himself. But of course, he’s only seventeen. Or is he? Jesse becomes oddly flustered as Winnie makes to drink from the same spring, and he strenuously attempts to stop her. As the headstrong young girl persists, Jesse’s mother, Mae, and older brother, Miles, emerge from the foliage and before she can gather her wits, Winnie finds herself on their horse, being taken to their home, so they can explain themselves and tell her their unbelievable story.

The events that unfold over the next three days are gently, thoughtfully and masterfully told by Babbitt in her marvellously evocative, precise, lyrical and rich prose, taut and tense in just the right places, all the while in keeping with the sultry, languid mood of the season. Despite being written over 45 years ago, Tuck Everlasting is remarkably accessible, a testament to the enduring and timeless nature of superb storytelling. By the end, Winnie comes of age, the Tucks continue to defy ageing, and we are glad and heartbroken at the same time.

For ages 10 and up.

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