Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Lawson.

I am a long-time lover of pioneer stories having been raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder.  This novel is a wonderful, more modern extension to the pioneer story.  In 1918, Hattie is left a homestead claim in Montana by her maternal uncle.  Both of her parents are dead and Hattie has lived with a series of ever-more-distant relatives.  The homestead finally gives her a place to call her own.  But in order to stake her claim, she has to farm a certain amount of the land and fence it.  Hattie finds a real life on the Montana prairie, with neighbors she loves and lots of hard work.  The homestead aspect of the story makes it accessible and fascinating.  But into this world comes World War II.  Hattie has a friend who is fighting overseas and people in Montana begin to question whether her German neighbors are actually enemies of the state.  Oppressive fees and demonstrations of patriotism are forced upon the homesteaders despite their meager amounts of money.  It takes the book to another, more complex level.

I completely delighted in this novel.  It starts out and appears to be a story of farming and toil and becomes much more than that.  Nothing is easy in the book, there are no simple answers, no sudden successes, and no miracles that save Hattie or other homesteaders from failure.  It is brutally honest, amazingly readable, and impossible to put down.

Recommend this to teens who enjoy historical fiction, but also encourage others to try it.  Hattie is an incredible female character who embraces a new way of life and builds herself the life she wants.  Teens will find her inspiring and see themselves and their abilities in a new light.  This is certainly one of the best of the year.

Loud Silence of Francine Green

The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman.

Cushman, known for her incredible teen novels set in medieval times, breaks from that time period up into the 1950s with great success.  This is the story of Francine Green, a teen who lives in Hollywood and adores all things to do with movies, especially Montgomery Clift.  Francine is a quiet girl, always worried about doing the right thing and avoiding trouble.  When she becomes best friends with fearless Sophie, she struggles with her own need to not be in the spotlight.  Sophie is loud, brash and always getting into trouble, often seemingly deliberately.  As the world around them begins to change, Francine is forced to examine whether she can stay quiet as McCarthyism begins to affect the people she loves. 

As always Cushman’s prose is inventive, gloriously clear, and inviting.  She has created two teenage girls who are polar opposites but manage to be best friends.  Both of the teens as well as their very different families ring true with the adults becoming more human throughout the novel. 

This is an important novel for teens today to read.  The parallels between McCarthyism and today’s American society are alarming.  Teens will feel themselves called to be vocal about the changes we see happening around us today.  Recommend this novel for classroom sharing and discussion.  It will generate it.  I would also recommend it for book talking.