top of page

Family Book Club: True Grit


photo of the book cover for the novel True Grit

After our last family book club fail, I knew I had to choose a winner this time around. There’s never a guarantee that everyone will like the same book, but I knew we could to better than last time. I decided to introduce the boys to a uniquely American genre: the western. True Grit, by Charles Portis, is a 20th century American classic written in 1968.


The main character is a type that’s become increasingly popular especially since the introduction of Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games): an early teenage girl who can hold her own in the most severe circumstances.


Mattie Ross is a fourteen year old who seeks to avenge her father’s death by hunting his killer, Tim Chaney, to bring him back to the town of the murder so he can be tried and hanged. Knowing she can’t manage this alone, she hires the meanest U.S. marshal she can find—Rooster Cogburn—and they team up with a Texas ranger, La Boeuf, who is also on the killer’s trail for another crime. Though the relationship begins rocky, the three eventually work together to find Chaney.


This short novel was written for adults, but in my opinion, makes a good young adult read. It’s quickly paced, with understated humor. While Rooster swears a few times, Mattie quotes scripture a few times, too (she is deeply religious).


On the night we sat down to discuss it, I made my best attempt at thematic food: chili and corn dodgers, which the characters not only eat but also toss into the air like skeets as the ranger and marshal try to prove who is the best shot.


Real corn dodgers are likely hard, dry and flavorless (like hard tack for sailors or lambas for those in Middle Earth), but I found a recipe that included crumbled bacon and cooked them in the grease. Despite totally burning one side of them, they tasted quite delicious and we ate every single one.

a cast iron skillet filled with cornbread


After dinner, we gathered around for our conversation, which the boys said made them feel like they were in reading class. (Not a compliment).


Though told from Mattie’s point of view, True Grit is somewhat equally shared by both Mattie and Rooster—hero and anti-hero. Rooster is a twice-divorced drunkard who’s a little loose with the gun. Of course, my sons thought he was amazing.


“He goes 1 v 4,” my middle son said of a scene in which Rooster charges at four enemies alone. And he comes through for Mattie in multiple scenes, including one in which he defends her from La Boeuf, who initially treated her like a child and whipped her with a switch. As my son put it, “He gave LaBoot to LaBoeuf.”


In my opinion, Mattie herself is the definition of true grit. Though the phrase is only used in reference to Rooster, I think the title is truly referring to Mattie herself. The boys, however, felt she was unbelievable as a fourteen year old.


“Do you think you could do what she did?” I asked my own fourteen year old.


“No,” he said. “She’s o.p.” (Over-powered.) “I mean, how is her shaggy pony supposed to keep up with their horses? She basically had a magical horse.”


My thirteen year old nodded. “This is actually a fantasy book.”


“She has plot armor, so she can’t lose,” continued the older brother.


Every main character has plot armor,” I said. “That’s how you get to the end of the book.”


Not surprisingly, my youngest son—who just generally reads more fiction and is open to more genres—liked it more than my middle son, who prefers science fiction and historical fiction (give him a character in a space suit or WWII uniform, and he’s all in).


We finished the night by watching the more recent movie adaptation. Neither adaptation is totally faithful to the text, but I prefer this new one over the John Wayne version. Jeff Bridges is an amazing Rooster Cogburn (though difficult to understand at times). The movie is rated PG-13 for (this made me laugh) “Western violence,” which included a hanging and a brief but yucky scene in which a man’s fingers are cut off and another shot at close range. Besides these content warnings, it was a funny, well-paced adaptation that captured the spirit of the book well. Surprisingly, it even included some of the scripture references and the musical theme was the tune of an old hymn.


True Grit was worth the read for the introduction to the genre and exposure to a recent American classic, and an overall good selection for our family book club.




bottom of page