I was lucky enough to win an autographed copy of Kirby Larson's Newbury Honor book Hattie Big Sky from Damsels in Regress. I read this book once before and really liked it but didn't remember much about it other than I really liked it. So, without further ado, here is my review:
Sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been an orphan nearly her whole life. She thinks of herself as "Hattie Here-and-There" because she hasn't had a proper home since she can remember. Currently, in the winter of 1917, living with a distant cousin and his wife in Arlington, Iowa, Hattie enjoys learning and dreams of a home of her own. When her Aunt Ivy decides Hattie's future is to be a servant in a boarding house, Uncle Holt steps in and hands Hattie a letter she received that very day from Montana. Hattie's Uncle Chester has died and left her his homestead claim. Hattie jumps at the chance to leave the drudgery of Iowa and have a place to belong. Homesteading in Montana, Hattie discovers, is not as easy as it sounds. For starters, she has only ten months to prove up on her claim in order to officially own it. Then she learns that the claim is in the middle of nowhere, the land is poor, there's hardly any shelter and her uncle barely even started on the requirements for homesteading. Hattie is determined though, to prove up on her claim. With the help of the kind Mueller family, she soon becomes used to farming and living on the Montana frontier. Her nearest neighbor, the handsome Traft Martin wants to make Hattie an offer on her land, but she stubbornly refuses to give in, especially once she learns that Traft is the head of a so-called Council of Defense so determined to keep loyal citizens safe from enemy "aliens" and "unpatriotic" people that they turn into cruel bullies in the name of safety. Hattie is conflicted, feeling that Americans on the homefront must make sacrifices like the brave soldiers, but understanding that her neighbor Karl Mueller, though born in Germany, is a true friend and wonderful neighbor. Hattie writes out her feelings on homesteading and about the war to her good friend Charlie, a soldier fighting somewhere in France. Charlie responds with his experiences and feelings about the war which provide Hattie with more food for thought. As the months go by and her deadline looms closer, Hattie must summon all the determination and courage she has to survive in Montana. She learns the value of true friendship, experiences love and loss and learns to be true to herself.
This is a wonderful novel about a young woman's determination to do something that not many women did at that time. It's a coming-of-age story that resembles the later Little House books, but set against the backdrop of WWI. The incredible detailed descriptions of Montana combine with the first person narrative make me feel like I am Hattie, working hard and trying to make a home for myself. I can feel everything Hattie is feeling and experience her joys and sorrows tight along with her. The characters are all very realistic and appealing, even the "villain" has more depth than a typical stock villain who comes along to shake things up. Even the Mueller children capture my heart with their innocence and loyalty. Hattie is an incredibly strong and determined young woman who has my utmost admiration, especially as she is based on a real person. I'm not sure if I would have had Hattie's courage in her shoes. This is a wonderful story perfect for fans who grew up with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. It's a great story of the true pioneer spirit of courage and determination against all odds combined with the coming-of-age of a young woman. I highly recommend this book to readers ages 12 and up (or mature 10 and up). I can't wait to send it to my honorary nieces for Christmas and see what they think of it!