The Education of Little Tree by Forrest CarterChildren's Classic/Historical Fiction
Generally, I find it helpful to know something of an author prior to reading their work. I like to know something about their history and life and see if I can find those threads in what I am reading. Here, though, the author's backstory is puzzling. Carter, whose real name was Asa Earl Carter, was a Ku Klux Klan member and sometime author. His writings are puzzling in light of his beliefs and the way he lived his life.
In this story, Little Tree is a five-year old boy whose parents have just died. He goes to live with his Cherokee grandparents in the hills of Tennessee. His grandparents are the descendants of those who refused to walk the Trail of Tears and instead hid in the mountains and continued their way of life as best they could. The story of Little Tree and his grandfather was so amazing and so beautiful. Because I come from a rural mountain way of life, reading of the closeness of the boy with his grandparents was so tender and touching for me. I cried at several points through the book and sobbed the last few chapters. This is an intergenerational story of heartache, traditions, ways of life and ancient wisdoms--it is a classic in every sense and deserves that rating. Carter tells of Little Tree's education in his native American heritage, in how to live with a mountain, and the important of family. Yet, the book is never one that preaches, just tells a story about a boy and his family that you desperately wished had been true. In short, I loved every word, in spite of the author and his intentions--if he had any.
I suppose, in regards to the author, I prefer to think this work of beauty in some way apologizes for his hatred in life, even if he didn't mean it to be that way. The work is so hauntingly beautiful and paints such a touching tender portrait of a lost way of life. Maybe Carter's soul wasn't all bad, just torn and conflicted--trying to bridge between how he grew up and a larger truth about life. That's what I'm walking away with.