Pay It Forward...

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

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Introduction For this book report I chose to read the novel "Pay It Forward" by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I have heard a lot about this book after it first came out, and when the movie that was based upon this back came out I decided to read it. The book is fictional, however it deals with the grim every day reality of the current North American life. The story happens in a typical rural American town, at our time. The main characters are: Trevor, a young boy, his mother Arlene and his handicap teacher Reuben St. Clair. The boy lives in a harsh reality of growing up without knowing his father, while his mother fights with poverty and alcoholism. One day his teacher gives the entire class an assignment; he gives them an assignment to think about an idea that will revolutionize the world... and that's where the story begins.

The book is written in the form of diary, taken from diaries of many characters that we meet during the course of the story. The book is very sentimental, and yet realistic.

Summary One day Trevor comes to school, and finds a new teacher. The teacher is black, which is somewhat of a shock to Tevor, as he and his mother live in a small rural town where you don't meet many black people. In addition to it, he is badly scarred, and lacks one eye. In response to Trevor's inevitable question, Reuben answers that he got his injuries in Vietnam. In short time Reuben and Trevor get very attached to each other, no matter that their races, ages and backgrounds are different. They talk a lot about "things" like Trevor calls them. "Things" are everyday and more important problems. Trevor knows enough about them; his father left him and his mother a few years ago, and since then his mother is battling against poverty and alcoholism and even has two jobs. Reuben also had more than enough problems in his life; as a brilliant young man with a promising career and a girlfriend that loved him very much he got sent to Vietnam. From Vietnam he was transported back to USA badly wounded, lacking an eye, but lucky to be alive. Shortly after that his girlfriend left him, and most of his friends turned away from him because of his looks. He never was in love with another woman after that, and he lived his life alone, lonely and miserable.

One day Reuben gives an extra-credit assignment to his social studies class: to think of an idea for world change, and put it into action. While most other kids come out with the trivial and plain ideas like concentrating more on recycling and cutting down fewer trees, Trevor comes up with a daring plan. He calls his idea "Pay It Forward". It consists of himself doing a good thing for three other people, a thing that they will not be able to do on their own, and then they should instead of returning him the favor, pay it forward to other three people. That way, Trevor thought, his plans will be able to support itself and will expand in waves throughout the entire planet.

First thing he does, is give an advertisement into a local newspaper, where he says that he will help a homeless person get on their feet, and that all candidates should come to a specific place at a specific time. That day, when he arrives there, he sees over 20 people who are there because of his ad. He gives them all a written exam to write, titled "Why Do I Deserve It"... The winner is Jerry, a homeless guy who used to work as a mechanic. Trevor brings Jerry into his house, feeds him, showers him and buys him new clothes, after which Jerry manages to get an actual job at a garage. The unfortunate part is that his mother, Arlene discovers Jerry at their house, and goes to speak to Reuben about his "strange assignment". That's how Arlene and Reuben first meet. Of course Reuben knows nothing about the assignment, and soon, very surprised he discovers Trevor's plan. He is of course very impressed by it, just like Arlene is. The second person whom Trevor helps is his neighbor, an elderly lady. Trevor watches after her garden, and takes care of it every day. Then come the bad news. Jerry, after getting his first paycheck, buys drugs with it and ends up being in jail. Soon after Trevor tells about his plan to the elderly lady, she dies. Trevor is very disappointed... Two of the three people he tried have failed him in one way or another. So he tries his last option... He knows that his mother and Reuben are very lonely, and he has noticed that they are very sympathetic to one another. So Trevor's final good deed is to try and bring Arlene and Reuben together. He almost succeeds: Reuben is about to move into their house, when the unpredictable happens... Reuben caves in under his own old fears and complexes, and stops the relationship, after which Trevor's father, whom half of the town considers dead reappears. That breaks the relationship between Arlene and Reuben, and when the time given for the social studies project expires, Trevor has no results. No matter that his idea didn't work, he still gets the highest mark in his class.

That's where the story should normally stop, but it doesn't. It seems that before she died the elderly lady leaves all her money to three people to whom she thinks it can help. Jerry, after sitting his time in jail is ashamed of himself, and leaves to San Francisco, where he saves a woman's life... And that's how Trevor's plan begins to work. More and more people begin "paying it forward", and soon it becomes a movement that even reaches the criminal world. At the same time Chris Chandler, a reporter is trying to track down the origin of the idea... After many weeks spent on it, he finds Trevor and that's where fame comes to him and his apparently forgotten extra credit project. One day he wakes up, very excited, because that day he is supposed to go to the Governor and get a medal for his efforts. And that's when the tragedy happens: Trevor, the inventor of "Pay It Forward", the boy that changed the world, dies in a stupid accident...

Evaluation I can honestly say that this was one of the best books I read in the last few years. At times it might look too exaggerated, or too sentimental, but it is very sincere, sensuous and ultimately sad. Human emotions and reactions are explored and described very well in this book. Realistic characters, people that we can meet in our own lives every day... It also feeds a lot of ideas to our brains about the modern societies... Why can't it be better? Why did it have to end badly? Those are the questions that you will be thinking off for many, many days after you're done with it. This is one of those rare books that you will want to read again. In my opinion this book is a must read, and it is one that I will remember for a long time.