"Everything in the world has two handles. Didn't you know that? One is a smooth handle. If you take hold of it the thing comes up lightly and easily, but if you seize the rough handle it hurts your hand and the thing is hard to lift. Some people always manage to get hold of the wrong handle."
- What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
When I was a girl, my mom read this novel to me from the Great Illustrated Classics . I was too young to remember what happened in the story or even the characters names, but I remember loving it and the time I spent with my mom reading it. So, when I saw this book at the store a few months ago, I knew I needed to read it again.
The Plot (via Arcturus books)
Twelve year old Katy Carr is forever dreaming of the important things she will do one day. But then an awful accident happens, and her hopes for the future seem more and more out of reach. Can Katy hang onto her enthusiasm and spirit, when everything appears to be against her?
On the outset, I love that this book starts with a poem. It hooked me into the story immediately. I think Susan Coolidge had a very sweet and understated talent for poetry, and I enjoyed all the little verses weaved within the story.
I laughed out loud at many parts in the first couple chapters. I thought all the names they had for their play places were so cute, especially The Hill of Difficultly, which sent me into a laughing fit the moment I read it.
I enjoyed Susan Coolidge's overall writing style. I liked how the narrator knew they were talking about a book and were aware others were reading it. It gave the story a very unique feeling, but also reflected the popular narrative styles of the Victorian era.
Katy's character reminded me a lot of Jo from Little Women. She's active and spunky, loves adventure, refuses to grow up and is an avid reader. I liked her very much, and thought her personality made her very love-able.
Cousin Helen was probably my favorite character. As someone who was an invalid her whole life, she was the perfect example for Katy of someone who turned a bad situation upside down. She didn't let her ill health keep her from enjoying herself, or wearing pretty things, or getting enjoyment from the simplest things in life. Being paralyzed didn't hinder her warmth and loving personality, but if anything it added to it.
Dr Carr was a refreshing character to read about. I loved how he indulged his children in their activities and was never hard on them. Back in those days, being a widower with a family was considered a little unorthodox, and many men sent their children off to live with other relatives to cure the situation. And many of those who didn't, kept a tight, strict leash on their children and employed strangers to do the real parenting. But Dr. Carr was attentive and looked after his children in a very loving manner. I enjoyed seeing single parenthood addressed in such a positive way. To me it makes the book stand out within its time period.
I enjoyed seeing the battle of Katy's first year of being temporarily paralyzed. Her emotions and attitude towards the situation fluctuated drastically, putting her into spells of depression and highs of positivity. It's a very realistic depiction of what those struggling with illness go through. Eventually she gets used to her new life and finds a new normal, but it's that first year of any new situation that always takes the biggest beating, and I liked that that was the focal point of the novel.
A Slight Criticism
The only thing I had a little issue with was when Helen referred to Katy being invalided as The School Of Pain, saying that her being paralyzed was a lesson she needed to learn. While I fully subscribe to the sentiment that good things can always come from bad, it came off as insensitive, almost to say that she deserved the accident.
That being said, painful occurrences tend to be life altering, and when those alterations change us for the good, it's reasonable to look back on the event as a somewhat positive life lesson.
This book is very short, but it carries a large lesson; that everything has two handles. When Katy is injured, she at first spends her time feeling sorry for herself. But after encouragement from her cousin, she learns that when bad things happen to you, the best thing you can do is find the joy in the situation. And even though Katy eventually heals and regains the use of her legs, her illness matures her and gives her a different outlook on life. By the end of the book, Katy is patient, loving and has an almost maternal way about her with her siblings. She turned her invalid life around, and made the most of what she was capable of doing.
To me this is a story that anyone with a physical or mental illness can relate to, and come away from reading with a more hopeful outlook on their present circumstances. For myself, I deal with anxiety and depressive symptoms related to my anxiety. I have good and bad days, both of which can have very long or very short stretches in between the other. It's unlikely I'll go through life without an anxiety disorder, and the best I can do is make the most of my good days, and reflect on them when the negative feelings begin to take over. I recommend this book to anyone who struggles with a disorder or illness. It gives you a different perspective, and will hopefully be a reminder that you aren't alone in your struggles.
How did you like What Katy Did? Let me know in the comments down below!