True Grit

 

by Charles Portis

 

The Overlook Press

 

Reader Appeal: Teens and Adults

 

Genre: Western

 

PopFam Rating: A

 

There's a reason why people keep racking up awards for starring in filmic adaptations of Charles Portis' classic western, True Grit: the book is that good.

 

Sure, John Wayne was great as the incorrigible marshal, Rooster Cogburn, and yes, Jeff Bridges was admirable in the same role. Likewise, both Hailee Steinfeld and Kim Darby (who both played the determined Mattie Ross) deserve the accolades bestowed upon their performances. But seriously, none of these folks does anything near to what Portis himself first did when creating these unforgettable characters and this story.

 

So, yes, as is often the case, the book is better than the movie. Much better--and better than them all.

 

Portis begins this classic novel in the voice of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl determined to avenge the murder of her father by that thievin' ungrateful coward, Tom Chaney. Mattie is a handful, a girl with grit of her own, battling a culture that dismisses both women and children as weak and mostly irrelevant. But after she's sent to pick up the body of her father, she refuses to go home without also bringing along the body of Tom Chaney, dead or alive.

 

To help her set out after Chaney, Mattie recruits the services of federal marshal, Rooster Cogburn, a cantankerous alcoholic man whose best quality is that he's described as a lawman with "true grit." He's a man who can, and will, get the job done. A bounty hunter from Texas named LaBoeuf joins the little posse--against Mattie's wishes--and the adventure begins.

 

Roaming the western territory with tales of Civil War battles and skirmishes against villain and friend alike, Portis lets Mattie to lead us inexorably into the wild, wild west where people fight and steal and boast and die--and where revenge is never without a cost.

 

Charles Portis' True Grit was written back in 1968, but it was still the best book I read in 2010. Full of vivid characters, unexpected plot turns, and unforgettable scenes, it still haunts my memory with the pleasure of a good story well told. Read it with your teens and spend time talking about it afterward. This one's highly recommended.

 

Let’s Talk About It

 

If your family members are interested in this book, then encourage discussion about it afterward. You can use these questions to get started:

 

• What words would you use to describe Mattie Ross? What were her strengths and weaknesses?

 

• The end of the book suggests that Mattie's quest for revenge left her with scars that lasted a lifetime. Do you think it was worth it? Why or why not?

 

• Who would you describe as a person with "true grit"? What do you think that means? Give examples.

 

--MN

 

Note: All product-related graphics in this article are standard publicity/promotional shots and are owned by their respective publisher.

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