Title: The Yearling
Author: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Paperback: 513 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Young Jody adopts an orphaned fawn he calls Flag and makes it a part of his family and his best friend. But life in the Florida backwoods is harsh, and so, as his family fights off wolves, bears, and even alligators, and faces failure in their tenuous subsistence farming, Jody must finally part with his dear animal friend.
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5
I’ve been trying to read this book since I was about twelve years old. I’m not going to reveal how long it’s taken me to finally get to it, but it’s been over a decade. In fairness, while this is categorized as a book geared towards younger readers, I found it to be a difficult book to buy in to, even as an avid adult reader. The language is wordy and not quite understandable with Rawlings transposing the dialect within the dialogue. While I appreciate Rawlings’s knowledge of nature and her ability to describe it so fully, it makes for a slow, slow start to a book that isn’t really action-packed in the first place.
Once the book gets started, however, it is quite enjoyable. While I don’t think it’s the most fascinating or interesting book, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, there is a good reason for it to have won a Pulitzer. It’s slow and steady with a few external conflicts to keep things moving along, but it’s mostly a coming-of-age book focused on Jody and his experiences growing up in the Florida backwoods, especially detailing how he ends up adopting a fawn. It’s brutal in its honesty about how hard life was in that place and time, which really helped give the characters and the story itself a genuine feel.
I especially appreciated the characterization in this novel, and how we’re able to see relationships through Jody’s eyes. As a child, Jody tends to understand the world in black and white, but through him, we’re able to see the complexities within relationships and people’s interactions with each other. It’s interesting to read this as an adult, because Jody gets confused when he has “conflicting” observations about how characters may seem friendly at one moment and like enemies the next, because for him, you’re either friends, or you’re not. Being able to get that sort of nuance while also staying true to Jody’s point of view was a point of brilliance on Rawlings’s part, and it gave an avenue for showing how Jody matures throughout the story by being able to understand complexity and nuance.
Like I said earlier, though, this book is not on a must-read list for me. I think that people who don’t mind drawn-out stories would enjoy it; the plot doesn’t really start until 100+ pages in, and it meanders from there. It’s not the best written or most exciting book, but it’s interesting for providing a snapshot of how life was in the Florida backwoods a long time ago, and for providing descriptions of nature and animals. My guess is that nature and animal lovers will very much enjoy this, but other readers will be able to take it or leave it.