The Yearling was required summer reading my 7th grade year, and I likely would have hated it had I been forced to read it then (I started attending that school in 8th grade). But reading it now, in my late twenties, I loved it. A coming of age story, it follows the subsistence existence of the Baxter family in the 19th century Florida backwoods–particularly that of Jody, the only survivor of his mother’s many difficult pregnancies. The Baxters struggle through various trials: flooding that destroys much of their crop harvest and decimates the local animal population; strained relations with the Foresters, the rough and uncouth family nearest to their homestead; and an ongoing battle with a stealthy and cunning bear they’ve dubbed “Old Slewfoot.”
Jody finds an infant deer and raises it as his pet and best friend–yet when Flag has grown up to become a Yearling and the Baxter’s can’t control his mischievous eating of the seedling crops they rely on for their winter store, they have to shoot the deer for the sake of their survival. Naturally, Jody takes it the hardest, and wrestles with hatred for his parents and the desire to run away in grief.
Amidst otherwise straightforward prose, the backwoods dialects stand out in the writing style, and there are occasional pause-worthy moments of beautiful narration–specifically when it comes to Rawlings’ descriptions of nature. This book is a slow burn, interspersed with moments of excitement, but its status as a classic of modern literature is well-earned.