Friday, November 19, 2010
Books with endings that make us think
A Goatboy Never Cries by Hazel D. Campbell, LMH Publishing Ltd. 2009
This is a chapter book for ages 9-12. The thing I like best about this book is that it portrays real life situations and emotions. This is excellent in a children’s book, because one of the things the reader wants to see is herself/himself in a book, and so often we forget that this includes feelings, which children may wonder if other people have. I often say that there are three different ways to end a story: 1) happily ever after - the reason we read many books; 2) unhappily, in which case most of us would prefer not to read the story; I don’t like unhappy endings for children’s or young adult books; and prefer 3) where things are resolved, that is, it may not be happily ever after, but there is a resolution, which let’s the child know that he/she has some control over life or hope for things to change in the future. In addition, usually with this kind of ending, the protagonist has grown/learns something. The ending of this book falls into the last category. At first, I was quite surprised at its frankness, and yet it is true to life, and the two main characters grow through their experiences. Stories like this are different. They give our children something to think about.
The story is told by Jillian, the third child in a family of four siblings. She has an older sister and brother and a baby sister, but the story focuses on her brother, Johnny. The family moves from Kingston proper to a new housing area which is part rural in nature. Amongst the many new things bought for the new house is a freezer. And it is the freezer, innocent as it is, which causes what happens to happen. The parents of the children see the freezer as a way of storing meat in bulk. The father therefore buys a goat to be fattened and killed, just like the chickens they keep are killed to be eaten. Johnny, who tries to do as few chores as possible, is made by his father to be responsible for looking after the goat. Predictably, Johnny is not pleased.
Then a strange thing happens. Over time Johnny becomes very fond of the goat who is called Gringo, and he and his friends (new-found in the area) spend time in the surrounding bush-land playing games with the goat. The goat has become a pet and seems to be equally fond of Johnny, following him around like a pet dog would do. Life moves idyllically along, only briefly interrupted by the usual spats between Jillian and Johnny, until the children’s father announces that the goat is now big enough to be slaughtered.
Johnny is shattered by this information, and Jillian, our narrator, all previous differences forgotten, becomes protective of him and sad for him,. Their father is unaware of the distress he has caused; and when it is explained to him he still cannot fully appreciate the problem because it was clear to all why the goat was bought. Johnny’s secret plans to save Gringo fail, and Jillian, our faithful storyteller, describes the emotional turmoil for all. A solution is presented which doesn’t satisfy the children but there is nothing they can do. The father then brings home a puppy. A reasonable resolution it would seem. However, there is a surprising ending. Jillian reports that Johnny shows no interest in the puppy. She overhears her Mummy telling her Daddy that maybe Johnny is now afraid to love another pet. Jillian’s final words on the matter (the end of the story) are telling:
It took Johnny a long time to get over the loss of his quaint pet. I sometimes wonder if he ever forgave Daddy for not keeping it. One thing I know for sure is that Johnny never again ate curry goat , or anything with mutton in it.
I felt a bit sorry for the father, even though he may not have been aware that perhaps his son had not forgiven him. Obviously one feels for Johnny who may never love a pet again and never eats curry goat again.
Stories are for enjoyment. But the best stories also leave us thinking. This story leaves both adults and children pondering human emotions, misunderstandings, being hurt, loss, forgiveness, the nature of love between different family members, as well as the love we have for pets.
This is one of the stories in the BIAJ’s new and very exciting Readers’ Choice Awards. (Check their website for further information). I would be disingenuous if I pretended that Hazel, the writer, is not a friend. She is, and having said this, I invite you to read the book and vote for it because it is a delightful book.