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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top ten eye moistening (shut up) death scenes in books a boy would actually read.

By J. R. Wagner

I know, the title of this post alone is worthy of some eye-rolling among us stone-hearted men. But, when caught up in a great story with great characters, sometimes emotions get the better of us. I’m not saying I blubbered like a toddler whose binky fell off his high-chair and out of reach, I’m simply saying there may have been a slight tightness in my throat –or a tad of moisture in the corner of my eye, that’s all.

I’ve ordered these from least eye-moistening to most. WARNING –this post is loaded with spoilers.

10. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

· I fell in love with Leslie Burke, the protagonist’s best friend in this story. In my mind’s eye she was everything my ten-year-old self could want in a ‘girlfriend’. Leslie was cute, adventurous and most of all, she had a great imagination. Together she and Jesse (main character) created a super-cool imaginary world. When Paterson felt the need to suddenly drop my would-be girlfriend into a rain-swollen creek and drown her, I was devastated.

9. Lord of the flies by William Golding

· I’d like to think I wouldn’t have joined Jack and his band of savages but rather stuck with Ralph and his moral high-road. To me, Piggy was just another kid. There were kids just like Piggy in my class. I was friends with kids just like Piggy. I think the shock of Piggy’s death is what got me. These were kids for God’s sake –kids my age and they turned on and killed a weaker kid. It wasn’t like he had died accidentally or had been killed by a bad guy. I think that’s the reason Piggy’s death got to me the way it did. Are all of us capable of such things in extreme circumstances? In my pre-teen mind, Piggy’s death would haunt me for years.

8. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

· Okay, so I wasn’t a teenager when I read this. (Yes, it’s that good.) From the first sentence I was engrossed and became Todd Hewitt. I felt what Todd felt and dammit if I didn’t quickly grow a soft-spot for Manchee. Yes, I’m a dog person –but even if you aren’t, that little talking mutt grows on you. When Aaron, the psycho preacher killed him, it was like a kick in the gut. I kept waiting for that damn dog to come paddling down river after the boat. To Ness’s credit, the dog is dead. As much as I wanted a happy(er) ending, I prefer realism to warm and fuzzy.

7. Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

· Yes, I realize this would be the second book in a row that I couldn’t possibly have read in my ‘younger years’…but it’s Harry Potter. Get over it. Albus Dumbledore was the mentor I always wanted. The wise and powerful yet caring headmaster of Hogwarts filled the father-void for Harry along with all of the other readers who needed their father-voids filled, myself included…and then, that greasy, betraying, back-stabbing, murdering Professor Snape had to go and kill him. Eff you, Snape. (Yes, I've since read the rest of the books and know who Snape really is...but at the time...)

6. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

· Back to my childhood. Of all the books on the list, I was probably the youngest when I Charlotte’s Web. Do spiders really die after they lay eggs? Based on my thirty-second internet search the answer is; it depends on the breed. Whatever. Once again the wise older character dies off leaving the young to carry the torch. White manages to slip Charlotte’s death in at the end –twisting the dagger in your chest after you’ve finally built a rapport with both her and the pig. Wilbur. At least when they off’d Bambi’s mother, you didn’t get a chance to know her. The ache is slightly lessened by the offspring who stick around but there will never be another Charlotte.

5. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

· I’m only allowing two dog death stories on my list for obvious reasons –they’re everywhere! This story, much like Charlotte’s Web, gives you ample time to fall in love with the dogs before ripping your heart out of your chest and squeezing it before your very eyes. There is nothing subtle about being disemboweled by a mountain lion, either. Poor Old Dan. To make matters worse, Little Ann (the other dog) dies from grief beside Old Dan’s grave a few days later. Nothing like a double-tap to make you cry like a little girl…not that I actually cried…just sayin’.

4. The green mile by Stephen King

· Big John Coffey is wrongfully accused of murdering two girls and sentenced to death. King quickly manages to get the reader to like Coffey –and eventually to care for him (I hesitate to use the word love.). Either way, by the end of the story, you realize he’s a good man, actually saves lives and, the kicker, you, through the eyes of the main character, get to watch him die on the electric chair. Paul’s affection for Coffey, and the descriptive (heart-wrenchingly descriptive as only King can do) death scene make even the toughest of men feel a twinge in their throat as the big guy rides the lightning.

3. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

· Such a great book for teenage boys for so many reasons. Toward the end of the story Dally and Ponyboy’s friend, Johnny, breaks his back while saving children from a burning church. After the dramatic rumble between rival gangs, Dally and Ponyboy return to the hospital and watch in horror as Johnny dies. If that isn’t enough, Dally, overcome by grief, points an empty gun at the cops prompting them to shoot and kill him. Ugh.

2. Of mice and men by John Steinbeck

Ah yes, George Milton and Lennie Small. Most kids will be ‘forced’ to read this story sometime during their school years. Lennie is big of body and small of mind. His brighter friend George keeps him out of trouble for most of the story –that is until he inadvertently snaps the neck of Curly’s (the boss’s son) wife. George, now knowing that Curly will be out for blood, does the only thing he can to keep his simple-minded friend from being lynched and puts a bullet in the back of his head. Talk about depressing.

1.The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

· The irony of this story coming in at number one is the fact that the ‘death scene’ is not the end of this character. Despite the rebirth of the great Aslan, reading the passage describing his death on the stone table was, by far, the most difficult (emotionally) for me to get through. I suppose there’s something about torturing and murdering my young mind couldn’t wrap itself around. I know he was just a lion…but he wasn’t really just a lion. Young minds shouldn’t be okay with torture and murder so I suppose my reaction would be considered developmentally normal (probably the only thing considered normal) for the time. Now, with (yes, I may sound like an old person here) violence on television, video games etc. younger minds may be numbed to this dramatic and traumatic account of the great king’s death. Hopefully not. I’d like to think books still reign supreme when it comes to emotion evoking.

Did I miss any? Feel free to comment with stories that caused a twinge in your throat.

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1 comment:

  1. Since you are interested in learning about good teen reads, you might enjoy following this Tarzana, California teen’s blog: