Allison's Book Bag

Gilly Hopkins and Queenie Peavy

Posted on: January 21, 2013

Let’s hear it for Gilly and Queenie! These two young ladies have a reputation for being troublemakers. Eleven-year-old Gilly has been bounced around the foster care system. Eighth-grader Queenie lives at home, but might be headed to jail like her dad. They’re also among the most famous anti-heroines in juvenile fiction.

Cover of "The Great Gilly Hopkins"

Cover of The Great Gilly Hopkins

When we first meet Gilly Hopkins, we learn that in the past three years she’s already been in two different foster homes. When her caseworker Miss Elllis turns into the driveway of yet another home, she asks Gilly to get rid of her bubble gum before they get out. Gilly obliges–by spreading her gum “under the handle of the left-hand door as a surprise for the next person who might try to open it”. Seconds within her arrival at her new foster home, Gilly has sat herself down at a piano stool and is pounding out “Chopsticks”. Before you think Gilly is just acting out, listen to some of her thoughts about her new foster mom: “What an awful smile she had” and “Listening to that woman was like licking melted ice-cream off the carton.” Gilly is one angry girl! Yet underneath all the bravado and attitude, there’s a girl who wants to be liked. You see, no family has kept Gilly long enough for Gilly to consider it worth her time to unpack her suitcase at each new place. As for that suitcase, Gilly carries a photograph in it of her mom–and that photo is the only thing that remotely triggers tears. Unfortunately, just because Gilly has a heart that doesn’t mean Gilly is easy to like. Quite the opposite! Gilly is a porcupine with her quills always bared. If this were any other book, Gilly’s new guardian Maime Trotter might instantly win her over and the rest of the book would be about how love changed Gilly. But this is a realistic portrayal of a foster kid, inspired by Paterson’s own experience of being a foster mom, and so love doesn’t come easy to Gilly. In the process of learning to accept Maime Trotter, Gilly talks back to adults, tells the only girl at school who attempts to be friends with her that she makes Gilly sick, gets into fights, and steals from her neighbor. She also keeps writing her mom, telling her about how horrible life is, and asking to be rescued. The story takes an unexpected twist when Gilly receives a response to her letter. In The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson has created a brat whom we grow to love despite Gilly’s best attempts to antagonize everyone.

Cover of "Queenie Peavy"

Cover of Queenie Peavy

When we first meet Queenie Peavy, we learn that she’s the only girl in Cotton Junction who could chew and spit tobacco. That however isn’t what lands Queenie in the principal’s office in the first chapter. Rather, her action of throwing rocks at the boiler room door does. If you expect Queenie to feel fear or remorse at being in trouble, she acts just the opposite. She boasts of her deadly aim. And when Mr. Handley recites a long list of misdemeanors, Queenie simply informs him that he’s left out a few. Until she’s told that the judge wants to see her, nothing fazes Queenie. Yet deep inside exists another side to Queenie, one that is sorry that Queenie told the principal that she didn’t care what happened to her. The problem is that Queenie has said “I don’t care” for so long that now sometimes she actually believed it. We soon learn other harsh realities about Queenie, such as that she doesn’t seem to feel bad for throwing rocks at kids who tease her or killing a squirrel for food. Life might have continued like this for Queenie if not for two incidents. One happens when she hurts a student in an act of revenge. The other happens when she’s accused of breaking the window in the church bell tower. Both of these land her one step closer to jail or towards following in her other’s footsteps, which Queenie initially thinks just might be fine by her. Except then her dad is released from jail, allowing Queenie to see an unexpected side to her dad. Then Queenie faces choices about who she will become. In Queenie Peavy, Robert Burch has created a troublemaker whom we grow to love despite Queenie’s penchant for making bad choices.

Why do I cheer for Gilly and Queenie? If I met them in real life, I’m sure neither would be easy to love. Yet I applaud their staunch determination to persevere against the odds. Especially because I know that inside both girls want to do the right thing. Sometimes though being good is hard. And these two anti-heroines are a testament to this truth.

My rating? Bag them: Carry them with you. Make them a top priority to read.

How would you rate these books?

What other juvenile books feature bad kids or anti-heroes? What do you think of them? What do you think of the ones I have featured?

4 Responses to "Gilly Hopkins and Queenie Peavy"

Your post prompted me to reread Queenie Peavy and The Great Gilly Hopkins. I enjoyed each as much as I had on previous readings of them. And again I was impressed with what great girls they turned out to be despite the negative aspects of their lives.

Always nice when a review prompts interest in a book! I’m glad to hear you reread Queenie Peavy and The Great Gilly Hopkins.

What I also love about the two books is that while the girls positively changed, to the very end they also kept a little of their toughness. Two strong ladies!

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