Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Great Gilly Hopkins

The Great Gilly Hopkins

Katherine Paterson
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2004   ISBN: 978-0064402019

Galadriel, or Gilly, Hopkins is on her way to yet another foster home. She does not plan on staying there long because she is determined that she will, somehow, in the not too distant future, find a way to be with her glamorous mother who lives in California and who surely wants her.

Gilly is appalled when she sees her new home. Her foster mother, Mamie Trotter, is very large and totally unlike anyone Gilly has ever met before. Then there is William Ernest, a terrified little seven year old who stutters when he speaks and who hides behind Mrs. Trotter whenever Gilly so much as looks at him. Then there is Mr. Randolph who lives next door and who comes over for meals. Mr. Randolph is black, blind, and hard of hearing and Gilly does not know what to think of him. The whole set up is too bizarre for words and Gilly is determined to keep her distance from everyone. This is what she always does because it never pays to let yourself get too close to anyone. You always end up getting hurt.

Smart, scheming, rude, and difficult Gilly sets about planning her escape. Purely by chance she finds some money hidden behind some books in Mr. Randolph’s house, which she decides to steal. Gilly then tries to figure out how she will get the rest of the money that she is going to need to pay for the bus that will take her to California. Though she is clever, Gilly forgets to take one thing into account – that grownups are not too keen on letting unaccompanied eleven year old girls onto long distance buses. Gilly gets caught and she is sent back to Mamie Trotter’s house.

The funny thing is that after a while Gilly doesn’t feel too bad about this. She discovers that she is rather fond of Mamie Trotter, William Ernest and Mr. Randolph. Just a short while after her run away attempt, Gilly finds out how truly fond of them she is when,  at long last, someone from her family comes to claim her. The problem is that now Gilly does not want to be claimed because she has found a home where she is happy.

In this often funny and at the same time bitter sweet tale, we get to meet a young girl who puts on a brave front for the world. Gilly is determined that no one can know how lonely and lost she feels on the inside. No one can know how much she wants to have a real mother and a real family. To protect herself Gilly creates a persona for herself, a tough, gum chewing, boy fighting, smart aleck persona who keeps everyone at a distance and who tries very hard not to like anyone.

This beautifully written,  touching and thought-provoking story explores the idea that families come in many forms and that families should never me taken for granted.