"Where the Red Fern Grows"

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This book's reputation precedes it, so I knew going in that the dogs would die.  It is well-established that in YA literature, if there is a dog, it will probably die (e.g. Old Yeller, Sounder) or at least be horribly abused (e.g. Shiloh, Call of the Wild).  So, while it is very sad that the dogs die, reading a YA title with a dog in it is a little like being a hospice worker: you know death is pretty much what they're there for.

Billy orders his coonhounds from an ad in a magazine and has them sent to him in the mail.  Because nothing says "humane treatment" like putting a puppy in a box via USPS.  I am only assuming that this was a conventional practice at the time.

Billy lives in the Ozarks during the Great Depression, so his hunting and killing of raccoons is, again, normal and expected.  His dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann, gain reputations as the best coonhounds in the area.  Rubin and Rainie Pritchard are jealous of the dogs, and bet Billy that Old Dan and Little Ann can't catch the infamous "ghost coon."  After Billy's dogs are successful but Billy refuses to kill the "ghost coon," Rubin knocks Billy down and the Pritchards' mean dog, Old Blue, starts to fight Old Dan.  Suddenly, Rainie shouts that "they" are killing Old Blue, since "Faithful Little Ann, bitch though she was, had gone to the assistance of Old Dan."  (Ann might be a little bitch, but she's not a little bitch, you know what I'm saying?)

When it looks like Billy's dogs are going to win the fight , Rubin threatens to kill the dogs and charges after Old Dan and Little Ann while brandishing an axe.  Here is the part where we might expect what happens to dogs in YA fiction to happen to these dogs, but no.  Instead, Rubin trips and stabs himself in the stomach with the axe.

And he's not dead yet.

Rubin softly pleads for Billy to "take it out of me," a few times, and Billy sees Rubin's hands are curled around the axe blade and he's trying to pull it out himself.  Billy does Rubin a solid and pulls the blade out for him: "The blood gushed. I felt the warm heat as it spread over my hands."  (By the way, bad idea, kids.)  Even though Rubin has just had the head of an axe yanked out of his abdomen, Billy actually believes that Rubin is going to be able to get up.

Then we get what I think must be the most horrifying passage in all of YA literature:
"His eyes were wide open, staring straight at me.  Stopping in his effort of getting up, still staring at me, his mouth opened as if to say something.  Words never came.  Instead, a large red bubble slowly worked its way out of his mouth and burst.  He fell back to the ground.  I knew he was dead."

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm never chewing cherry bubblegum ever, ever again.

Lesson learned:
The pull-out method rarely works.

Rawls, Wilson.  Where the Red Fern Grows.  New York: Doubleday, 1961.
Where the Red Fern Grows


  1. Thank you so much for this. I feel like this same exact passage has scarred me since childhood. The "large red bubble slowly worked its way out of his mouth and burst." I seriously have remembered that one sentence for years!

    1. I agree.. I read that in 5th grade and I'm now in 10th grade and that is still stuck in my brain. Even my mom was scarred from that--

  2. what was the red bubble??!!?!?!?!?!!