Hattie Big Sky

Today is YA day here at the Cybils, and who better to feature than our YA coordinator, Jen Robinson. While all our organizers are an enthusiastic, knowledgeable bunch, Jen’s business acumen and laser-beam focus has helped make the Cybils a professional, quality venture from the get-go.

Plus, she’s an impassioned writer, and you quickly get sucked in by her direct, no-nonsense prose that especially shines in her review of Hattie Big Sky, a story of a homesteading teenager in the World War I-era who must learn to survive in harsh, Eastern Montana:

Oh, the wonderful things in this book. The more I think about it, the more there is to think about. Hattie’s grit and determination. The difficulties of homesteading life. Hattie’s lessons about loyalty, friendship and, alas, tragedy. The book, although written in the first person, uses a couple of devices to allow us to see even more into Hattie’s evolving thoughts and personality. First, she writes regular letters to her Uncle Holt, and her friend Charlie, a soldier stationed in France. Also, Hattie writes monthly pieces for a newspaper about homestead life. They are funny and poetic and heart-breaking.

Hattie Big Sky kept me up late reading two nights in a row, wanting to know what would happen next. It’s a historical novel, not a mystery, but there is plenty of suspense. Will Charlie survive the war? Will Perilee’s new baby be born safely? Will Karl suffer at the hands of the defense council? Will Hattie prove up her claim? Will anyone we care about die in the Spanish flu epidemic? But there are moments of joy and friendship and small town entertainment, too.

The characterization is subtle but confident. The only person I couldn’t quite pin down was Traft Martin, who helps Hattie from time to time, but causes trouble for her, too. This isn’t a criticism. It’s a well-drawn and complex character who I puzzle over, uncertain of his motives. As for Hattie, she’s simply a triumph. Through the story, we witness her evolution from the child who calls herself "Hattie Here-and-There" to the woman who does what needs to be done, and learns the true meaning of home.

No go read the rest, particularly where she draws parallels between WWI and the situation in Iraq.