Review: Pay it Forward

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s international sensation, Pay It Forward, is the moving story of Trevor McKinney, a twelve-year-old boy who accepts his social studies teacher’s challenge to come up with a plan to change the world.Trevor’s idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask them to “pay it forward” to three others who need help. He envisions a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond his small California town and across the world. However, when Jerry, a bum to whom Trevor gave his allowance, returns to a life of dissolution, the project seems valuable only as a lesson on the dark side of human nature. But ultimately Trevor is vindicated. At first people don’t know how to explain the odd dip in crime rates across the nation, but a journalist with a story of his own tracks down the source of the epidemic of random acts of kindness and makes Trevor a celebrity. Yet Trevor has problems closer to home: he wants his pretty, hardworking mother to see the softer side of his beloved teacher, Reuben St. Clair, a scarred Vietnam veteran who seems to come alive only when he’s in front of his class. Anyone who has ever despaired of one person’s ability to effect change will rejoice in Trevor’s courage and his determination to see the good in everyone.–From Amazon

I keep putting off writing this review for two reasons. One is that I do most of my reading and blogging on weekends and I have had a lot of visitors lately. The second and larger reason is that Catherine Ryan Hyde is not only an incredible writer but one of the kindest people I have ever (virtually) met. I have this irrational fear that my inability to put my appreciation for her work into words might let her down.

I also have a confession to make. Catherine, I’m very sorry for what I am about to say; I know this is just about your least favorite thing to hear. Before I participated in a blog tour for Jumpstart the World, I didn’t know who Catherine Ryan Hyde was. Pay it Forward was one of my favorite movies growing up, but I didn’t even know it was based on a book. I had never heard of Catherine or her work. I’m ashamed to say this, but at least I have been reformed. I have now read two of Catherine’s books and I own every single one. I plan to read them all cover to cover until I can feel better about myself. I hope I can be forgiven for this.

Now that I have gotten that tremendous weight off my chest, I can tell you how much I loved Pay it Forward. Trevor, a young boy with the innocence to believe that people will do the right thing, starts performing good deeds as a social studies project. He doesn’t realize it, but in completing this assignment, he begins something that is ultimately much greater than himself. Trevor’s idea is a simple one: If one person does something good for three people, and then each of those people do something good for three more people, it won’t take long before this gets exponentially larger and everyone is doing nice things for each other. In the process, Trevor finds that sometimes people will let you down, and the world will let you down, but that most people ultimately have some goodness in them if you just give them the chance to show it.

The book is told from a variety of perspectives, including first and third person narratives, interviews, and diary entries. Pay it Forward is about a social movement, so it seems fitting that it is told piece by piece from the perspectives of many people involved. Together, these characters reveal a tremendous capacity for compassion, as well as realistic human flaws. Catherine Ryan Hyde can tell a good story, sure, but above all she is a master at portraying people as they really are. Her characters are not black and white Disney movie archetypes; she writes in every shade of gray, creating people that are complex and believable.

The movie version of Pay it Forward is an adaptation of this book, but not a particularly faithful one. I can’t say that I love it any less; after all, I fell in love with it first. It will probably still make me sob every time I watch it, and that is because as far as the details may veer from the original, the ideas behind it are just as beautiful. I wish that more of its fans would go and read the book, and all of Catherine’s other books, because I think that they would find the same sense of tolerance and activism in her other work.

I can say, though, that if any of the other books get turned into movies, I will make sure that I read them first and love them more. I promise to be one of those obnoxious people who spends the entire time I’m watching thinking about every single inaccuracy. I hope to find lots of you other readers right there with me.

Quotable Quote from Pay it Forward

“The most important thing I can add from my own observations is this: knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it proves that you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.”

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10 Responses to "Review: Pay it Forward"

  • Oh my gosh! This was one of my favorites movies growing up as well! I totally didn’t know who she was either :/

    What an inspiring story! Might need to watch that movie sometime soon!

    1 Jamie said this (November 18, 2010 at 2:13 PM)


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