The Education of Little Tree

by: Forrest Carter
Fiction
1976
Subject Matter: Biography; Youth; American novelists; 20th century; Cherokee Indians
Rating: 4/5

The Education of Little Tree

Don’t mind my puffy red eyes… Just allergies, I swear.

Or maybe three hours of crying over this book.

Because yeah. That happened.

The Education of Little Tree is a story of a little boy, orphaned and sent to live with his Cherokee grandparents in the Appalachian mountains.

The first three fourths of this book are a beautiful discussion of “the Way”. Carter’s writing style is intriguing and cute, and it sounds almost as though a five year old really wrote it.

And then the last fourth of the book? Sheer torture. Beautiful torture, but I cried the whole way through. Gone are the slightly pat discussions of what it means to be a Cherokee and how to be one with Nature yada yada. This is raw and terrible. I knew it going in – the jacket of the book tells you that Little Tree (the little orphaned boy) gets sent to live in an orphanage. I knew it was going to happen, and yet when it did it destroyed me. And not for the reasons you think. It wasn’t an account of terrible living conditions and inhumanity, although that is there, too. It’s the emotions of a six year old boy stubbornly refusing to fall apart or lose his naïveté in the face of adversity that really does you in.

So here I was. In love with this beautiful book about the beautiful mountains and with stereotypical lessons about how to be a better person.

And then I Googled it.

And found out that a) it’s complete bullshit and b) that it’s ridiculously problematic. Forrest Carter is a pseudonym for a former KKK speechwriter. Yep. You heard me.

Not only did the real Asa Carter never grow up in the mountains, but he spent the larger part of his life in the world of politics, a world Little Tree is fundamentally opposed to. He tried to fool the world and, to some, he did. My edition still prints that this book is autobiographical, which it is now widely known that it is not.

It’s confusing and disturbing and makes this book very hard to categorize.

Does that mean it’s pointless?

Hell no.

This is still a beautiful book – a book that I would say, despite being written through the eyes of a five or six year old, is not for children. Which is why I gave it four stars.

Just take it for what it is: a work of fiction.

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed Little Tree, here are some suggestions on what to read next:

(for more by Carter)

Watch for Me on the Mountain by Forrest Carter

Josey Wales by Forrest Carter

(for books about orphaned minorities)

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

(for heartbreaking child protagonists)

Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(for more about Appalachia)

Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver

Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash

 

Coming up:

Outer Banks by Ann Rivers Siddons

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Galdwell

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017 by Richard N. Bolles

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