This is a story about a fourteen-year-old girl who sets out to avenge her father's murder in the declining days of the Wild West. Mattie Ross browbeats everyone from horse traders to Texas Rangers to outlaws, refuses to take 'No' for an answer, and while she's not fearless, she never lets fear stop her.
Both True Grit
movies are great, but read the book to get the true flavor of the story and the personality of Mattie Ross, probably one of the greatest teen protagonists in the history of literature. She's like a tiny little force of nature, determined to find her father's killer no matter what. Her asides in Portis's book are so self-important, judgmental, and hilarious, you can totally picture this precocious know-it-all little brat riding around Arkansas seemingly completely unaware of what fourteen-year-old girls aren't supposed to be able to do in 1870.
The writing style is unique (a stiff flavor of dialog that may not be historically accurate, but manages to convey a sense of old-timey Western roughness), and the story is straightforward. Mattie Ross narrates events in the past tense, frequently adding little embellishments or asides that tell you she hasn't changed much even though she is now speaking as an older woman. Many people will always picture John Wayne as the fat, hard-drinking, one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn, but in the book, Cogburn is only slightly principled, as much outlaw as lawman, despite his soft spot for Mattie. Mattie completely steals the show, taking over every scene she's in, much as she takes over everything she gets involved with (keeping in mind that the book is told from Mattie's POV), but all the other characters, from Cogburn to the Texas Ranger LaBoef to the murderer Tom Chaney, who spends all his time whining about how "everything goes against me," are vivid little slices of Old West goodness.True Grit
is both a classic Western tale and a great timeless story that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike, and one of the few in its genre in which you'll find one of the strongest female characters ever. The world needs more Mattie Rosses!