"The best prize in the world," he whispered...
(from The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt)
Many years ago, during the 1986-87 school year, I read The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt. I recall the story of an abused boy and his rosebush being an emotionally traumatic experience for my younger self. Though much of the specific plot details had been lost to time, I know I cried a lot, probably because I related to certain aspects of Georgie, the main character. His loneliness, specifically, especially in the claustrophobic conditions of a school building.
This emotional impact is probably why the title of the book stayed with me all these years, so when I recently found a beat-up copy at a rummage sale, I purchased it for a quarter without a second thought. After my purchase, while I finished reading the book I was in the middle of, I started to have that second thought.
Do I really want to relive a devastating childhood literary memory that might bring devastating real life school memories to the surface? What if I read it now, with older and more cynical eyes, and find the story lame, or worse, wretchedly eye-rolling with a vomit-inducing happy ending?
These were my legitimate concerns as I held the paperback in my hands. The brief cover review didn't alleviate my latter concern, "A deeply affecting, affirmative story..." - ALA Booklist. Despite this, and the nun on the cover which caused me to expect the story to take a severely religious turn, I opened the book and carefully stepped back in time.
Many words and many tears later, I closed the book, emerging with a better understanding of what I read those many years ago and why it hit me so hard. The story, unfolding in a very matter-of-fact way, which I appreciate, is a heartbreaking and beautiful study of life, death, and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to find the truth, beauty and strength in yourself and others. The author's words are direct, and full of compassion and understanding of the complexities of human existence, in both children and adults.
I still relate to certain aspects of Georgie. His loneliness, his awkwardness and his ability to lose himself in books are relatable. Only one real life school memory reared its ugly head, though it is tied to so many other memories...a certain elementary teacher who seemed to relish in making me feel stupid and calling me so. She is why I hate math to this day and why I hate feeling stupid, even though I often feel that way. I need to take a cue from The Lottery Rose and see past what was and focus on what is, whatever it is, but that is another blogpost for another time.
As for the ending...well, I didn't roll my eyes or vomit because I was too busy wiping away my tears. It was an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a most beautiful book.
P.S. Here is a post about a book I wish I could have read when I was younger...