The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson

Synopsis: Galadriel “Gilly” Hopkins is one tough kid. She’s in her third foster home in so many years, and she’s determined to hate it. Maime Trotter, her foster mom, is fat and illiterate. Her foster brother William Ernest is a little slow and scared to death of her. Her blind black neighbor Mr. Randolph, whom she would have never spoken to were it not for Trotter, is practically family. She’s not a fan of her new stupid family. She wants Crystal, her real mom, who sends postcards saying she loves her forever and wishes Gilly could live with her. She writes a letter to Crystal [ed: oops, Courtney, I’ll correct this], begging her to take her away.

Gilly’s no dummy. She discovers money hiding in Mr. Randolph’s house and plots to get it. She gains the trust of Trotter and her gang in order to get that money (and she finds more in Trotter’s house).  She attempts to buy a one-way ticket to LA (where Courtney lives). The police get called, and William Ernest ends up convincing Gilly to come home.

Gilly’s caseworker offers to take Gilly off Trotter’s hands for Trotter’s good. Trotter won’t hear of it, she loves Gilly and needs her. Gilly overhears this. She slowly realizes she’s grown attached to this eclectic family. Over Thanksgiving, everyone was sick except Gilly and she was playing nurse when she gets a surprise visitor:  her grandmother. See, Gilly’s mom sent her over after getting the letter, and she wanted to confirm that the situation is as bad as indicated. It’s an awful visit. A few days later, the caseworker comes by to move Gilly in with her grandma. Trotter can’t do anything about it. Gilly is pissed at herself because she finally found a place where she belonged, and she screwed it up.

A couple days before Christmas, Courtney is coming home. Her mother hadn’t seen her for thirteen years, and sent money to get her to come. Gilly was so excited, until she realizes that C is “a flower child gone to seed”, and she’s not coming to get her permanently. Gilly thinks that she’s thrown away her life “for a stinking lie.”

Gilly calls Trotter, and Trotter tells her happy endings are a lie and life’s not fair. Trotter can’t take her away from her grandmother, because she’s all the family “Nonnie”  has.  They say they love each other, and Gilly leaves wanting to make Trotter proud.

Bookworm’s Commentary:

  • This book makes me tear up so much. Gilly makes me laugh, cry, and scold some bratty kid who doesn’t realize how lucky they are.
  • I feel so bad for Gilly. I know that maybe, hypothetically, Courtney loved Gilly. BUT.  You just shouldn’t do that to a kid.  Kids (even hardened kids like Gil) want to believe the best in the world, especially of their parents. C is so self-centered– wanting Gilly’s love without giving any back– avoiding her mother for 13 years and then wanting her mother’s money without any strings attached (even if it is just visiting her daughter). Gilly, as she put it, threw her life with Trotter away for an unfulfilled promise.
  • Trotter is the opposite of C in every way. Foster mothers have to have a lot of emotional strength,love,  patience, and selflessness. She’s all of these things without a doubt.  Trotter’s only “selfish” when she insists they can’t take the runaway from her, never.  But who would call her selfish, even at that?  She gave her up when grandma entered, not only because she wouldn’t have been able to legally fight it, but because she saw someone who needed Gilly as much as she did.
  • I am glad that Nonnie gets a second chance with Gilly. She’s a widow and C left, so she’s truly alone in the world– just like Gilly. Trotter’s right: they needed each other.  Although we didn’t want it quite like that, I finish the book feeling like good things will come Gilly’s way.
  • I love Gilly’s teacher Mrs. Harris. She’s the only one who knows how to SAY Galadriel, although Gilly won’t let her call her that. She gets a really racist card from Gilly, and instead of detention or whathaveyou she THANKS Gilly for inspiring her to “cuss creatively” for a good twenty minutes.  She also sends Gilly Tolkien after she moves in with her grandma.  I wish I were that calm, cool and AWESOME.
  • Pronunciation help: Ga-LAY-driel? Ga-LAD-riel?  Ga-LA-dray-el?Darn it, gotta watch the movie again. With hubby reading and pausing the entire way… fun…
  • I lost my notes; I know I had more bullet points.

Class Stuff:
Grades: Probably upper 4th-7th/8th.
(I do know of an eighth grade teacher who taught it simply because her kids hadn’t read it yet and they voted on  it).  I guess it depends on the kid as always, especially with the younger readers because of likelihood to cry.
Grade: A.

Challenge-worthy? Let’s be honest. Our sweet little Gilly is a bit of a racist and she can curse like a sailor (if Trotter would allow it).  But in this case, these are characteristics that move the story along; after all, most foster kids are not going to be cheery with a clean mouth. I don’t think Gilly is challenge-worthy, but those are my speculations as to why people felt they should challenge it.

Also, and I don’t want this to sound mean or judgmental, but many challenged books are challenged by super-conservative people (Christians?– I’m thinking the WBC/hater brand ).   Trotter is a star in my eyes. If Christianity is about loving the unlovable, Trotter did it and she never gave up hope that Gilly would make it in her house. She loved with no strings attached and no expectations that Gil would love her back or change. In fact, when Gilly accuses Trotter of changing her into a Christian, Trotter replies that she would never change her, since she and her crew like her the way she is.

Would I fight to keep this book in my classroom? YES. Gilly is a kid you can relate to.  You can work with this, you can teach from it.  The minor cuss words Gil uses is that– MINOR– compared to the beautiful story that Paterson tells. Paterson (as you know) is masterful at telling great stories that can touch your heart, and sensitively (and humorously) deals with subjects many people won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.  Most kids are going to have hard lives; a few will have it harder than others. They need the message that happy endings are a lie, and you do with what you got. Even those who have a happy enough ending need to know this.

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7 Comments

Filed under Challenged/Banned Book, Realistic

7 responses to “The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson

  1. I’d never heard of this novel before. Thanks for the review. I remember reading and loving White Oleander (so much so, in fact, that I really didn’t want to see the movie which I doubted could do it justice).

    I think a book like this about someone “in the system” is necessary because there are children out there who need to know that they are not alone, that their feelings may be conflicted and even contradictory but are nevertheless valid. I’m definitely going to seek out this novel. Thanks!

    • I’ve actually never read White Oleander, so I’m excited to add that to my reading list!
      I agree about the importance of having books about kids “in the system” in the classroom, for the same reasons you mentioned.
      Thanks for checking it out!

  2. Julianne

    I loved this book as a kid, and I bet I’d probably love it just as much now. Like you said, Gilly was intolerable at times, but who could blame the girl? I was really upset about the ending when I first read it, though. 😦 I haven’t read this book in years … now I want to find it again! Wait .. did you say there’s a movie? MUST. SEE.

    • Well, apparently there WAS a 80’s movie (probably made-for-tv the way google made it look like) but the movie Satia was talking about was White Oleander.
      I’ll admit, I didn’t read Gilly as a kid, I was working in the children’s section in the college library when I first read it. Even at 20, I was pretty upset at the ending, but the second time around I felt better about it. Not perfect, of course, but whose ending ever is? Thanks for checking it out, Julianne! 🙂

  3. Kennedy

    i thaugh ther mom’s name was coutney

  4. Lilly presscot

    great book

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