Ok… Bad librarian confession coming up. I sometimes shy away from the Newbery Award winners because, while the award committee is recognizing the books’ literary merit, many kids don’t clamor for them. I only picked up this audiobook because the one I had requested was not here yet, the one I was listening to was over, and I had already listened to most of the other ones that were checked in… But I really LOVED it! I know, I know. Librarians are supposed to know better than to judge a book by its cover or any other silliness like that, but historical fiction never used to be my thing either. Until now!
Sixteen-year-old orphan Hattie Inez Brooks has been bounced from one family member to another for so long that she calls herself “Hattie Here-and-There.” She does the best she can to get by without feeling like she is too much of a burden, but some family members have been less than loving toward her, and she is just looking forward to a time when she can find a place that really feels like a home of her own. When her Uncle Chester (her mother’s brother) passes away, he leaves her with a Montana homestead claim — giving her the chance of a lifetime! As long as she can “prove up” on the claim, it will become her own. Proving up, nevertheless, is an amazingly difficult task. She will need to put up miles of fencing and plant/grow/harvest 40 acres of crops in less than a year — all the while living in a small shack which barely protects her from the elements.
This is not just a story about homesteading and survival, though. It’s a story about what it was like for the Americans “at home” during World War I. It’s a story about the true meaning of friendship. And, it’s a story about how a person’s definition of “home” doesn’t necessarily have to mean a particular house or town. Inspired by the life of an actual homesteader named Hattie Inez Brooks Wright [Kirby Larson’s grandmother], this story runs the gamut from hilarious, to depressing, to aggravating, and back to heart-warming. It is rare for a book to latch right on to my heart as quickly as this book did, and I only hope that my admission of guilt will help a few more people to look beyond their own reading prejudices to find some amazing books they may have missed.