Total Pageviews

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hattie Big Sky, written by Kirby Larson. Delacorte Press, Random House. 2008. $7.99 ages 12 and up

"So much fuss about age! Men can enlist in the service at eighteen but cannot vote until age twenty-one. Women are thought old maids at twenty-four. My time on the prairie has shown me that age has very little to do with one's mental acuity or physical ability. My "old hen" neighbor - her own label for herself - is sought after like a debutante at a grand ball for her horse-training skills."

I have no excuse for waiting so long to read this beautifully told story. It has been on my bookshelf for far too long. Then, Hattie Ever After arrived in mailbox and I knew it was now or never. So, pick it up I did, and put it down I could not! The mix of historical fiction laced with admirable and likable characters made it a perfect read for me. Historical fiction is not one of my reading gaps, as it can be for so many. Nor are stories that introduce wonderful characters meant to make our lives better for having know them.

Hattie Inez Brooks is tired of moving from one place to the next. She calls herself Hattie Here and There, as she cannot find a loving and permanent foster home. When Uncle Chester, a man she has never met, leaves her his homestead and belongings in far-off Montana, she takes a chance on finding a place for herself. She is sixteen, and unaware of the difficulties that might arise for a young girl on her own. Add to that the fact that she must prepare 40 acres of ground for planting and set 480 rods of fencing, all within a year of her arrival. It is a daunting task.

Hattie's first person narrative, mixed with letters to her Uncle Holt in Iowa and to her friend Charlie, who is fighting in Europe, as well as essays she writes for a newspaper back in Iowa, helps  us imagine how difficult life truly was for those who tried homesteading in the early twentieth century. She knows nothing about farming, about fending for herself in the wilds of Montana, or even about the growing racism against the people of German descent in America during the First World War.

She has much to learn. Luckily, she meets wonderful neighbors who make her life worthwhile and promising. Karl and Perilee Mueller and their young children are her closest neighbors and are a godsend in helping her learn to farm, feed and fend for herself. Rooster Jim provides appreciated company and a chess partner after long days alone working from morning until night. And, he entrusts her with some hens and a rooster that will provide sustenance and occasional entertainment. Leafie keeps her spirits up and teaches her about healing and first aid. She has much to be thankful for in a lonely and desolate land.

Hattie has respect for that land, and a healthy dose of persistence to make it hers. Life is very difficult for everyone. First, they must deal with the unbearable cold of a long and arduous winter; then, with mud, drought, hail, hard work and the threat of wild animals during spring and summer. Hattie has pluck, and the love of friends to help her make a new life for herself. Her struggles are many, her successes hard won. In a letter to Charlie she talks about the heartbreak of a hailstorm:

"As I thanked my neighbors at the end of the day, I felt as if I was at a funeral. And in a way it was. A funeral for a dream. How could months of work be destroyed in a few minutes?"
In an author's note, Kirby Larson lets readers know that her story is a family one. Her great-grandmother Hattie Inez Brooks Wight had worked a homestead in Montana when she was only sixteen years old. Discovering this tidbit of family history set the wheels in motion for a journey that let to this book and its compelling narrative.

Now, on to Hattie Ever After. I, like so many other readers, want to know what happenes to this very fine and independent young woman!

No comments:

Post a Comment