The Great Gilly Hopkins Questions and Answers
by Katherine Paterson

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Did Gilly Hoppkins like her grandma?

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Gilly Hopkins is a lonely, angry girl who has been abandoned to the foster system by her wayward mother, Courtney. Although the circumstances surrounding Gilly's abandonment are never made clear, the impact it has had on Gilly's personality is evident. She is defensive, willful, and mistrustful of others, believing that nobody has her best interests at heart. She is highly intelligent, but her difficult personality has prevented her from integrating with any of her previous foster families, and she has never been anywhere long enough to put down roots.

The only concept of "family" that Gilly has is embodied in an old photograph of her mother, whom Gilly worships. She writes to her to complain about her situation at Trotter's house, begging her mother to come get her so that they can be together. She doesn't truly expect to get a response and is very surprised when her grandmother, Nonnie, turns up to "rescue" her from Trotter—ironically right about the time that Gilly is finally becoming a true member of her foster family.

Nonnie is very genteel—"silk to Trotter's burlap," Gilly thinks—and seems ill at ease confronting her granddaughter for the first time. She tells Gilly she never knew Courtney had had a baby, and although she is rather formal and awkward around Gilly, it is clear that she feels she has a duty of care to her granddaughter. Gilly, however, is confused by Nonnie's sudden appearance in her life, which represents yet another upheaval in her chronically unstable childhood. She feels a bit sorry for the older woman, but Nonnie is a stranger to her, and Gilly isn't sure what to think about her.

When she leaves Trotter's house to go to Jackson with Nonnie, Gilly is miserably homesick and finds Nonnie difficult to adjust to. After a few weeks, however, she begins to settle in with her grandmother and to appreciate Nonnie's perseverance on her behalf. Although they barely know each other, Nonnie is determined to make space for Gilly in her life.

When, in the final chapter, Gilly meets her mother for the first time since she was a small child, Gilly is shocked by how little Courtney actually seems to care for her. Her old concept of "family" was based entirely on the belief that her mother loved her and wanted to be with her, but her time with Trotter changed Gilly's understanding of what a family can be, and now, face-to-face with her mother, Gilly realizes that Nonnie is truer family to her than Courtney has ever been.

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