“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”
So starts True Grit, the story of how young Mattie Ross sought vengeance for her father’s death. After realizing that the local authorities weren’t going to have catching her father’s killer high on their priority list, she seeks help on her own. She asks around for the best of the U.S. marshals, and she decides on the one with the meanest reputation – Rooster Cogburn. Mattie finds and hires him to accompany her into Indian Territory to bring Tom Chaney to justice. Complicating matters is LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger who has been hunting Chaney down for some unrelated crimes. Together the threesome sets out, and this is their story.
What really makes this novel brilliant is Mattie. As the narrator of her own story, she excels. For a fourteen-year-old, she is incredibly tough and mature. She’s assertive, determined, and her bargaining powers are nothing to be trifled with. I am basically just completely in awe of her. If I had a daughter (which I won’t, because screw having kids), I would want her to be a lot like Mattie. She’s blunt, and doesn’t waste time on things like redundant emotions or flowery descriptions. It’s refreshing. She has a lot of heart, despite her deadpan delivery and no-nonsense attitude.
I was a little disappointed in Rooster – I expected to like him more. And while I did enjoy how tough he was and how he sneered at a justice system that sets killers free, he was just a letdown. The only boring part of the novel were his drunken ramblings about his past. And LaBeouf was just an ass. I didn’t like him at all, but that was kind of the point of his character, I think.
Other than the aforementioned boring tales of Rooster’s past, True Grit is fast-paced and packed full with action near the end. There are some parts that made me burst out laughing (seriously, Mattie is a great narrator), and some parts that were a bit more on the sad side. I’m a bit confused as to why this isn’t on more classics lists, and why it’s not on high school reading lists. What better way to make kids appreciate how good they’ve got it than by shoving a girl like Mattie in their faces? And it would lead to great in-class discussions about how times have changed, responsibilities that kids have, western justice versus modern justice, and so on.
I’ve read a couple westerns before, but damn none of them could hold a candle to True Grit. I really, really liked it. It’s definitely going to go on my shelf with my classics and be re-read at some point. I can’t wait to see the new version of the movie that came out a couple years ago – I already borrowed it from the library. I’m actually looking forward to sitting down and watching the movie this weekend while I’m at work. Do you know what a lazy movie-watcher I am? That’s a big deal.
I also want to point you to two excellent reviews of True Grit – one from Laura at Devouring Texts, and one from Alley at What Red Read. Their reviews are just so articulate and awesome and you should go read them. Right now.
Sarah Says: 4 stars