Ah, maybe my cynicism growing but I have a hard time with stories that rely on the goodness of a kindly, older man looking out for others, even while down on his own luck. Such a story seems irresponsible in today’s social climate.
Cecil Castellucci goes for this mythical concept full hog in Soupy Leaves Home, a Depression-era tale about a girl named Pearl, who leaves the safety and wealth of her family home after her mother dies and her father hits her. On the one hand: good job not putting up with abuse. On the other, maybe there was a better alternative than running away. Castellucci looks for an excuse for her premise: Pearl’s grandma doesn’t buy Pearl’s story and turns her away. So Pearl disguises herself as a boy named Soupy and takes off for train jumping with some good-hearted hobos with their own code of honour. In particular, she takes up with Ramshackle, a kind-ole hobo who teaches her the ropes, encourages her to find the magic in things and be true to herself.
My brain immediately rejects the concept of the good hobo, who has no ulterior motives towards a younger, more vulnerable girl, even if she is disguised as a boy. I equally reject the assumption that these wandering, homeless people have some sort of innate wisdom that people with a roof over their heads don’t possess. It’s weird, when this trope appears in fiction. It in no way belies the realities you can see in poor, transient communities. Homelessness shouldn’t be venerated. A capacity to deal with living on the streets isn’t the same thing as being wise, kindly and just.
Equally, Soupy/Pearl’s inability to rely on herself or find her own path until the very end (where it seems tacked on for feel-goods) makes her boring. It doesn’t make her strong.
Sure, this book is aimed at younger readers, but they’d be better served to learn to watch out and be skeptical of the guidance from strangers, who mostly will not have their best interests at heart. Ramshackle tells Soupy to find her own path: it isn’t enough to cover up that she’s totally dependant on him.
I rarely out and out disagree with fiction. There is always a point of view to consider, and perspective to mull or acceptance that other’s opinions and stories are valid. However, I can’t help but feel that tales such as Soupy Leaves Home are misguided: somewhat like the prostitute with the heart of gold stories we rely on in our fictions, or the prince, or any sort of saviour type figure. We’d be better of teaching girls to save themselves, and showing them how to figure out how to do that. Sure, it’s less of a romanticized story, but certainly a more practical and revolutionary one. Especially these days.