I read this book over and over again as a child. The picture of a young boy growing up in the Ozarks and working to buy himself his own hunting dogs; the trials and tribulations, the language, the feel of the time period — it all spoke to me as a kid. Nowadays, if I know a book is going to be sad, I’ll think twice, probably three times about reading it. I may choose not too. It’s easy for me to sympathize with hardship, and even easier for me to cry. So I’d really rather not know in advance that things are going to go sour, or that I’m going to lose a beloved character (let alone two). But back then, as a kid, there was almost an enjoyment of the cathartic release of tears. The anticipation of the loss of Billy’s dogs became a well-earned sob-fest.
In the front of my very dilapidated copy of the book, I wrote “Property of Kira Apple. I have read this book six times and I love it.” It was just that simple. I knew what was coming; I still, to this day, can barely watch animals dying on screen or read about them in novels. But this book kept me coming back, even though I knew no matter how loyal they were, or how much Billy loved them, or how much I loved them, Old Dan and Little Ann were going to die.
Most folks cite Old Yeller when the topic of pet loss in novels comes up, but my mind will always go back to Where the Red Fern Grows, and the beautiful bond between Billy and his loyal dogs. The story makes the pain well worth it.