May 6, 2009

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

9 of 10: For a girl like me, raised on Little House on the Prairie and Caddie Woodlawn, this book was like finding a long lost friend. This is a slightly more grown-up version of those books, but still retains the same feel. I loved Hattie Big Sky from the first moment to the last.

Hattie has been an orphan (of course she is) for years, shuffled between unwilling relatives since childhood. Now, at sixteen, her great almost-aunt is ready to ship her off to work as some sort of maid. Hattie, of course, hates the idea, but finds herself saved when a letter arrives declaring that her uncle (a self-proclaimed scoundrel) has died and left her, his only living relative, his homestead in Montana.

Despite her aunt's protests, Hattie packs her things, leaves Iowa and heads to Montana where she finds herself alone on the prairie in a tiny little shack, with one horse and one cow to her name, plus the responsibility of "proving up" within the next nine months ("proving up" requires her to pay $37 in filing fees, plant 40 acres of the land, and put up several miles of fencing). Normally she would have three years to prove up, but because her uncle started out on the claim over two years earlier, she has only a little time to do what is required.

And all of this set against the backdrop of World War I. You don't hear as much about homesteading and farming in the modern era, after the invention of cars. It's a little disconcerting to have Hattie sitting on her front stoop and looking up to see a motorcycle roar into her front yard.

Hattie has a school friend, Charlie, who is off in Europe serving in the war and she writes to him consistently. To him, she talks not only of her growing love for Montana and the difficult life there, but also the hatred for German-born homesteaders that is becoming increasingly prevalent. The family she is closest to in Montana has a German husband/father and he is often the target of such bigotry as the war drags on.

The idea of going out to homestead at sixteen is just the sort of thing I loved as a child and still find completely intriguing.

And you can't get a better heroine than Hattie. She is so determined to make this all work - the miles of fence posts that have to be put up, plowing, planting, harvesting, keeping up with her chickens, horse, cow, and cat.

I think these kinds of plots are generally aimed at a younger audience, but this one is marked as 10-16 and it's pretty accurate. This book has enough complexity for it to be interesting to those who might have thought they'd aged past the homesteading kinds of books. As a side note, I listened to this book on CD and the narrator, Kirsten Potter, is perfect. Oh, I loved her. She was Hattie.

This was the perfect weekend book - real, honest, and so likable I wanted to cry - I listened to much of it lying on the couch on Friday afternoon. A nice change from the angsty teenage love stories I also love.


  1. Part of what I loved about this book was how spot-on the settings were. Being an Iowa dweller and one who spent significant time in that rural farmland of Montana, I was impressed with how accurate it was in place and with people.

    I loved this book and am so glad you liked it, too.

  2. I loved little house too!! Thanks for this recommendation :)

  3. Oh, I just started reading this one today! I'm only about 40 pages in though so I skipped most of your post to make sure there weren't any spoilers. :)

  4. Oh, that book sounds just perfect. I bet I would love it, too. I can't imagine homesteading at 16-- it's daunting enough to consider taking it on at 26!

    Sweetfern Handmade

  5. I've heard and heard about this, yet never read it. Maybe books on CD will have to be my new wave while I nurse . . . I'm sure my library has it or could get it.

  6. Random note: Maybe it's because my husband grew up on a farm (and believe me, you've never seen a more middle-of-nowhere place) that the idea of motorcycles pulling up in front of the farmhouse seems normal to me.

  7. Wow! Sounds like it has everything to offer, from the homesteading, orphaned child, and chickens to the WWI setting... And thanks for commenting on the narrator. I dislike narrators in general, so it is nice to hear of a good one. Thanks!

  8. I read this book about a year ago. Great example of a strong woman who maintains her individuality in pre-liberation society. No pushing this gal around, yet she didn't become masculine.

  9. That sounds good. I wasn't a huge Little House fan living in AL, but now that I'm in SD where there are stretches of BIG OPENESS, I want to read more about it. I am constantly amazed at the idea that people would travel here with no idea what to find, and travel for days in this area to find a good spot to set up. Even now it's a lot of NOTHING to see.

  10. Thanks for the book review. I love the Little House books. I was totally obsessed with them as a child - I even dressed up like Laura for Halloween once. Of course no one had any idea who I was, you would think that people had never seen a ten year old dressed up like a pioneer for Halloween before.

  11. I LOVED this book!! My school has just begun a whole genre thing and I hope to get a few teachers on board to do this as a read-aloud.

  12. I wish she'd write another novel soon! I loved Hattie Big Sky!

  13. So I obviously glanced over the author the first time I read through this.

    As I was perusing your book reviews to add a few items to my hold list to the library, I looked this one up, and then the author name finally stuck.

    I know Kirby Larson! I went to school with her daughter. Obviously we're not close, but she was one of those uber-involved moms that was always at the school, etc, so I feel like I know her. And I would have recognized her walking down the street, even before I googled her to make sure it was the same Kirby (but, really, how many Kirby Larsons are there?)


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