Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (3 1/2 out of 4 stars)

There is a famous book from the 1800s called Jane Eyre in which an orphan rises above miserable conditions through hard and honest work, overcomes great hardship, and ultimately gains control of her life in a place and time that did not necessarily allow women that sort of autonomy. If Jane had lived on the frontier in Montana during the end of World War I, she might have been Hattie Brooks, the main character in Kirby Larson's novel Hattie Big Sky.

Hattie is an orphan who has been shuffled from cousin to aunt to cousin and ends up in Iowa with a mean and nasty aunt who wants her to quit school and go to work. Out of the blue, her distant Uncle Chester dies and leaves her a claim in Montana. If she can prove the claim (establish the land as her own by fencing and planting) the land is hers. She immediately sets off on her great adventure. As expected, life is harsh in Montana, and there are many obstacles to face, not all of them from the land. Hattie must also deal with a slick, underhanded (but good-looking and smooth) cowboy who wants her land. Most importantly, the author exposes one of the uglier sides of WWI in America: anti-immigrant racism, prejudice, and persecution. Today, Americans are asking themselves if security is worth giving up personal freedom and evaluating such legislation as The Patriot Act that asks people to allow that type of intrusion. This is a common theme in our history, and wartime is usually when conditions are ripest for blacklisting. Larson astutely examines our current policies as she looks at history, the quality of all good historical fiction.

This is a well-written book that rings true because it is based on the exploits of the author's grandmother, who actually lived Hattie's life. The writing moves along quickly, and Larson cleverly moves the story in time by writing letters to her friend/maybe-boyfriend overseas in the war and writing about being a single homesteader for her local Iowa newspaper. If you like adventure and people who conquer their problems and take control of their lives, read Hattie Big Sky.


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