Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Usually when thinking of homesteaders we connect prairie states, the 1800s, Ma and Pa and a house full of children, starting from scratch, and, if more conflict is needed other than the demands of day to day life, throw in a character off to the Mexican-American War or Civil War.

Hattie Big Sky is a homesteading novel featuring none of these. Hattie is a sixteen-year-old girl who inherits a homestead from her uncle - 320 acres in Montana in 1917. The added conflict does involve war, but it is anti-German sentiment and childhood friend Charlie off to fight in the Great War.

One thing remains the same however. Regardless of location, century, or family, life as a homesteader in the United States was never easy.

Hattie arrives in January with ten months to prove up her claim. A house and shed have already been built. Forty acres must be cultivated, and while fence supplies have been purchased, the 480 rods (that's 7920 feet or a mile and a half) of fence must still be built.

Most of the expected ingredients are present. Friendly and unfriendly neighbors. Blessings (like the fence supplies) and set-backs (like learning the fence supplies were purchased on credit.) Gossips and those with no patience for them. Prayers answered both positively and negatively. Bad weather and worse weather. And a new baby.

What keeps a person reading isn't really the story itself. Most readers will understand the story of farming, working, worrying, praying, and working some more. Instead, what keeps readers going is the newness of a homesteading novel in a different era (there's tractors, bicycles, automobiles, and a motorcycle!), the tension of war, both with Charlie away fighting and with Karl, a local German immigrant homesteader, and Hattie.

Hattie, whose most important possession is her mother's backbone. Hattie Here-and-There who wants desperately for a place to call home. There's absolutely no reason that Hattie, this young girl, should be considered the head of household and be trying to prove up a homesteader's claim. But try she does, and readers can't wait to see if this young heroine will succeed.

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