Gilly Hopkins is an incredible character. Given up by her birth mother when she was five, she has spent the last eight years bouncing from foster home to foster home, making trouble in hopes of being reunited with her mother. She has a potty mouth, a mischievous attitude, and a heart that desperately desires to be noticed and loved. I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining that this novel is a great one, as author Katherine Paterson is an award-winning author, the recipient of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award for a few different titles.
The Great Gilly Hopkins honestly made me cry. Because, you see, my parents were foster parents. When I was in high school, we had three different children come through our home, one of which became my best friend at the time. Tabatha experienced poor relationships with her birth parents, ones that included abuse and neglect. When we welcomed her into our home, she was desperate for attention and confused about her identity and a sense of belonging. Was she a troublemaker like Gilly Hopkins? Not at all. Did she deeply desire to be reunited with her birth parents? Not necessarily. But did Gilly’s yearning for attention and love remind me of my sister? Most definitely.
This intense yet endearing novel is so important in the lives of middle grade readers and their parents or authority figures. To gain an understanding of the life of a foster child is critical in their thoughts on belonging, family and true love and identity.
The Great Gilly Hopkins
by Katherine Paterson
Originally published in 1978