I've had Edward Tulane sitting at home for about a week now. I was saving it for a day when I'd be home alone -- I suspected that it would be a weeper, and I was right. Boy, was I right.
This book is a tearjerker. It made me cry so much that my nose was running. Not just little sniffles. I'm talking full-on-vile-hanging-snot-threads crying. It was brutal.
By now, you've probably already read a synopsis, so I'll be brief: Edward Tulane is a china rabbit. He is much loved, but he doesn't know how to (or why he would even want to) love back. Even after a terrifying fairy tale told by the equally terrifying grandmother of his owner, Edward doesn't feel the need to love. When he is separated from his owner by two horrible boys and the ocean, his long journey -- physical and emotional -- begins.
After finally reading it, I'm firmly in the pro-Edward camp. The Washington Post reviewer objected to the book partially because "it is aimed at children, who will be surprised and disturbed by a great many unpleasant thoughts before they, and Edward, are done." But really. When was the last time that reviewer sat down with some of the classics of children's lit? Charlotte's Web? Wilbur almost becomes a pork chop and Charlotte dies. The Day No Pigs Would Die? Another pig, this time dead -- not to mention the dog that dies trapped in a barrel with a rat. Where the Red Fern Grows? Dead dogs, among other things. Don't even get me going on The Velveteen Rabbit. Children's lit is filled with horrible things. It's partly a way of working through our early fears -- and yes, Edward Tulane is full of them.
Heck, think about the stories of Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm Brothers -- not the ones that have been cleaned up and Disney-fied, but the real ones. The prince in Sleeping Beauty gets his eyes pierced by thorns and wanders around blind in the desert covered in his own blood for years before he gets his happy ending. Red Riding Hood's grandmother gets eaten. The Little Mermaid's human feet are so painful that every single step she takes feels like walking on knife blades. And she doesn't even GET a happy ending.
The Washington Post article also asks: "What, exactly, are they meant to take away from this tale...?" Here's what I don't understand. Why does a story have to have a moral? Sometimes a story is a story is a story. Lessons are not always necessary. If they were, children's lit would have to take a gigantic step backwards.
Edward Tulane is beautifully written and illustrated. Edward himself is pretty funny, which, given the tear-jerker-iness of the story, was a relief (and he's that wonderful, no-sense-of-humor-perfectly-serious kind of funny that I always love):
She smiled. "Have you ever in your life seen anything so fine?" she said.
Edward felt immediately that Nellie was a very discerning woman.
A doll. How Edward loathed dolls. And to be thought of as a likely replacement for a doll offended him. But still, it was, he had to admit, a highly preferable alternative to hanging by his ears from a post.
I think that the detractors are just failing to give kids enough credit. Again.