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Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

where the red fern grows rawls Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Young Billy Colmans knowledge of the world is limited to the Ozarks, where his family make their home, subsisting on the land as best as they can. It is a challenging existence, although a rewarding one in many ways, and Billy sees himself as wanting for nothingsave for a pair of raccoon hunting dogs, which will allow him to make a more meaningful contribution to his family, and in so doing allow him to position himself as a masculine figure within his female-dominated family. But a pair of quality raccoon hunting dogs is costly, and is far more than Billys family can afford. After wheedling and pleading with all his might, Billy takes a different approach, and decides to earn the money for his dogs himself. Its here that we see Billy begin his transformation into an adult, and here that we first see a glimpse of his stoic, selfless character. For two years Billy toils endlessly in the name of his dogs, hunting, trapping, and gathering produce to sell at his grandfathers store. When at last he has enough to vindicate his efforts, he seeks out his grandfathers help in contacting the owner.

From this point, Billys life changes dramatically, and what follows is a moving series of events. His grandfather supports him wholeheartedly in his effortsone has to wonder whether the alleged price drop on his dogs is actually the case, or whether his grandfather may have had something to do with thisand encourages Billy to do whatever is needed to make the most of his dream. Billy ventures, for the first time, into town, engaging with the locals and their unfamiliar norms and expectations, and while he is treated pleasantly enough by some, he is tormented and mercilessly mocked by others for his hillbilly ways. His march through the town with his prize, an event he expected to be triumphant and brazen,'is destroyed by the teasing and bullying of the townie youngsters, and we see a strange and tragic inversion of the cultured and the uncultured. Billy, despite being uncouth, is the morally superior, judging not and avoiding acting out against the other. However, his return to the familiar countryside of his home is less of a relief than might have been expected, as during the night he and his young pups are accosted by the terrifying spectre of a mountain lion. Its a motif that will occur again later on in the book, and one that I suspect marks Billys stepping into adulthood and the challenge that this will bring.

For with his dogs does come Billys adolescence: he develops in a number of ways, growing sensitive, introspective, and independent, and that wheedling nature that we saw earlier on in the book vanishes altogether. Billys dogs become an extraordinarily important part of his identity to the extent that the three are almost parts of a whole: together they are more than the sum of their parts. Billys determination and drive see him excel as a hunter, and the love he feels for his dogs is palpable. But there is almost a dark drive hereBilly is determined to achieve far beyond what might be expected of him and his small dogs, and amidst the triumph of the underdog narrative, one wonders whether theres a slightly self-destructive bent bubbling just below the surface. We see this when Billys desire to remain at the homestead until the end of his days conflicts with his parents desire to move into town to further their childrens education: theres a sense that Billy, afraid of the wider world, is deliberately maintaining a sense of distance and isolation. Perhaps this is part of the reason that he begins to develop such a closeness with his grandfather and fathera closeness that has not heretofore manifested.

But there comes a point when his canine companions can no longer be his guiding light, as indeed they have been throughout the narrative. I wont liethe ending of this book is desperately cruel and heart-wrenching, but theres a sense of necessity to it, a precipitative force that catapults Billy from adolescence into adulthood, and the accompanying responsibilities.

Where the Red Fern Grows is a simply but beautifully written novel, with a depth that is far greater than might be gleaned upon a superficial read. Its a coming of age story, of course, but one that deals thoughtfully with notions of alienation, morality, otherness, responsibility, and fate, and Im not surprised that it has become such a treasured modern American classic.

Rating: star Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawlsstar Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawlsstar Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawlsstar Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawlsblankstar Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (excellent)

With thanks to Simple Schooling for the review copy

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Also by Wilson Rawls:

summer of the monkeys rawls Review: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls


  1. I havent read this since I was in school. I happen to love re-reading books from my youth as an adult, I think this one just became next on the list.

  2. This is one of my favorite books of all time. Still to this day, I cant read it or talk about the end without bawling my eyes out. Its an amazing story!
    Thanks for the wonderful review of such a loved classic!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Stefne. It is a wonderful book, and there are so many wonderful thematic elements that can be discussed. The characterisation is simply stunning, and I was astounded by how much it moved me!

  3. My mother read this one to me when my siblings and I were kids. I still remember how sad we all were at a certain spoiler-esque point, and for that reason, I cant imagine ever reading Where the Red Fern Grows again. I actually gave my copy away a while back. Which is not to say its a bad book on the contrary, that it could move us all so deeply is a testament to how good a book it is! We later read and loved Summer of the Monkeys, which is the Rawls book Ill reread if I ever do pick up one of his again.

    • Stephanie /

      I almost had tears at that point, and Im notoriously hard-hearted! Ill definitely keep an eye out for Summer of the Monkeys. :)