Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Review: Hattie Big Sky

I must be the last person to review Hattie Big Sky, but I have an excuse, I swear. I spent November and December reading Middle Grade fiction almost exclusively for The Cybils and Hattie Big Sky was nominated in the Young Adult category. In fact, Hattie Big Sky was selected as a shortlisted title in the Young Adult category. That being said, I'd recommend Hattie Big Sky to children as young as 10.

Hattie Brooks has moved from relative to ever-more-distant relative most of her young life. When she is sixteen years old, she reaches the end of her line with Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt (he's a distant cousin). Or so she thinks. Just as Aunt Ivy is about to send her off to work as a maid, Hattie Brooks receives a letter informing her that her mother's brother left her a land claim in Montana. She has one year to work the land, make it profitable, fence it off, pay her taxes and it will be hers. Hattie takes her chances and the train out West.

Hattie arrives to Wolf Point, Montana where she is met by Perilee and Karl Mueller, her homesteading neighbors, and their three children, Chase, Mattie, and Fern. They help her settle in her Uncle's "house," and show her how to survive the winter and care for the horse and cantankerous cow. Even the children know more than Hattie: Chase has to detach Hattie from the well pump on her very first day. Though life is hard, Hattie is up to the challenge and works to survive on her own.

Kirby Lawson has created a wonderful character in Hattie. She's a tough girl, willing to work to make it on her own. But, Hattie is more than just determination--she's also kind and compassionate without being silly or sentimental. In 1917 Montana, anti-German sentiment is strong, yet Hattie stands up to her wild Montana neighbors and supports her friend Karl Mueller when he's attacked, both physically and verbally, for being German-born. Even Hattie's feelings for her school friend, Charlie, who is away at the front, are true to character:

  • "So maybe I did spend a night now and then dreaming silly girl dreams about him, even though everyone knew he was sweet on Mildred. My bounce-around life had taught me dreams were dangerous things--they look solid in your mind, but you just try to reach for them. It's like gathering clouds."

Hattie Big Sky, just as its narrator, is a brilliant, straightforward novel. Author Kirby Larson pulls no punches: death is ever present in the novel, as it was in 1917, and friends are essential to survival. I appreciated Hattie Big Sky for its complex ending as well. Hattie, in some ways, fails in her endeavor. (I won't spoil the book for you by mentioning how.) In other ways, Hattie finds family, love, and self-sufficiency.


A related note: MotherReader recently read Hattie Big Sky and invited readers to discuss the use of religion in the book. It's a fascinating discussion, so read through if you get a chance. I have to admit, that I was one of the readers who didn't notice it much--it seemed appropriate for the era.

(I say this as a person who was really irritated by the Narnia books as a child because I found them too evangelical.)


I received Hattie Big Sky from the author.