Near the little village of Treegap, there is a wood with an "otherworld[ly]" appearance, owned by the Fosters, who live in the "touch-me-not cottage" at its edge. There is no road running through the wood, so no one knows about the giant ash tree whose roots nearly conceal a fresh water spring at its center; this spring has the potential to create an "immense disaster."
One evening in August 1881, eleven-year-old Winnie Foster is chasing fireflies out in her yard, when a strange man dressed in a "jaunty yellow suit" stops by. The man says that he is looking for someone. He seems intrigued when Winnie informs him that the Fosters have lived in that place "as long as there've been any people [there]." Winnie's grandmother comes out, and when the man turns to her, a "tinkling little melody" emanates from the wood. Winnie suggests that the tune is coming from a music box, but her grandmother insists that it is being made by elves. When the old woman excitedly hustles her granddaughter into the house, the mysterious man, alone now, regards the wood thoughtfully, then disappears down the road, ominously whistling the haunting tune that faintly lingers in the darkness.
The next morning, Winnie is again out in the yard, railing against the stifling controls placed upon her by her family. She considers running away but, lacking the resolve, decides instead to venture at least into the adjoining wood, where she has never been allowed. As she walks through the luxurious foliage, Winnie comes upon an enormous tree in a clearing. Sitting by the tree is a handsome young man, to whom she "los[es] her heart at once." Winnie watches as the man sips from a small spring that rises from the ground, then she steps forward and asks him for a drink. The man, who introduces himself as Jesse Tuck, worriedly tries to convince Winnie that it would be "just terrible" if she were to taste the water. As Winnie points out that Jesse has just taken some himself, another young man and a big, "comfortable-looking" woman appear, leading an old horse. The pair are Jesse's older brother Miles, and his mother, Mae Tuck. When Mae sees Winnie there, she says resignedly:
Well, boys...here it is. The worst is happening at last.
Before Winnie even has time to think, she is lifted onto the horse and is transported through the wood, while Mae, Miles, and Jesse run alongside,...
(The entire section is 2702 words.)
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While avoiding the hyper-realism of so many recent novels for children and young adults, Tuck Everlasting nonetheless gives a believable and loving portrait of real people in a very difficult, if somewhat fantastic, situation. Winnie Foster is neither an angel nor an anti-hero. She's simply a young girl with strengths and weaknesses; she is basically good, but far from perfect. The Tucks, at first glance, come across as little more than endearing, slightly mysterious country bumpkins, but we quickly realize, as Winnie does, that there is much more to them than is immediately apparent. Angus and Mae Tuck are unlettered, but wise in their own way, and they have much to teach Winnie about life.
The central event of the novel—the Tucks offering Winnie immortality—is both intriguing and problematic. Should she accept the offer? Should she consider marrying Jesse Tuck and coming to live with them? Whether she herself chooses to live forever or not, should she keep their secret? The Tucks' slovenly but free lifestyle stands in obvious contrast with everything Winnie hates about her parents' and grandmother's prim, fenced-in, middle-class existence. Winnie, however, must decide whether the freedom the Tucks represent is right for her. This decision is made even more complex when the unnamed stranger in the yellow suit makes an appearance and, in his overwhelming desire to gain control of the fountain of immortality, threatens both the Tucks and Winnie....
(The entire section is 265 words.)