I just finished “Where the Red Fern Grows;” if you’ve read it before* then you may already know how this story is going to end.
A few days ago I was listening in as my mom and my sister were sorting through the “children’s” section of our books to send some off to the D.I. Afraid that they would throw away “Sideways Stories from Wayside School,” I decided to watch closely. As I did, the old rust-colored hardbound copy of “Where the Red Fern Grows” caught my eye. I had a flashback of driving to California 15 or 20 years ago, my whole family in the Suburban as my parents tried to read the last few pages in between sobs and nose-blows. I picked it off the shelf. “If you don’t cry when you read that then you don’t have a heart,” my mom said.
This put me in a tough position because I didn’t want to end up crying, but the thought of being heartless didn’t sound very good either. Lose-lose situation, right? So I was careful as I started to read. The book was written for teenagers, so how sad could it really be? My strategy was to not start caring for any of the characters—especially not the dogs. And as a backup plan, I read the whole thing with a very critical eye just to make sure I didn’t get too wrapped up in it. Then maybe I would be a little choked up or kind of sad, but not in tears—proving that I am too manly to cry but that I’m not totally machine.
I did really well until the very end. I won’t explain all the details (just in case someone is reading this who hasn’t read the book), but somewhere around the line: “You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over,” I lost it. I tried to focus on the fact that he was using words like “old friend” or “a thousand times over,” but it didn’t matter. I was bawling my eyes out. Turns out I do have a heart (which is kind of a relief, I guess), and I’ll agree with my mom—if you can finish this book dry-eyed then you are a heartless beast.
*Turns out everyone I’ve talked to since I’ve read it has seen the movie, but nobody has actually picked up the book. Is it worth reading? A few hours after I finished the book my mom and I both started crying just talking about it—it’s absolutely worth reading.