Sixteen and Homesteading Alone in the West
If you have studied any American history at any point in your life, you probably have at least a vague idea that in 1917 America was fighting the Germans in World War I. If that is about all you know or remember about this time, then Hattie Big Sky is a great book to fill out your knowledge in a funny and enjoyable way.
Hattie is a sixteen-year- old orphan who bounces between relatives until a letter arrives from an uncle who has never paid attention to her. The letter is actually his will, in which he leaves his Montana homestead to Hattie. Eagerly, she moves west alone to tackle the homesteading requirements. The events in Hattie Big Sky are quite funny, such as when Hattie scares away a wolf who is chewing on her cow‘s tail, or when she stops a stampede by waving her skirts in the air. However, Hattie‘s knowledge of agriculture is limited to a backyard garden, so homesteading and cultivating forty acres is a daunting task. Without the kindness and generosity of Hattie‘s new German neighbors, Hattie “was probably going to be the first homesteader ever to die from extreme stupidity,“ as she muses while her hands are frozen to the pump handle on the first day. Along with being funny, most of the events in the story are also based on the true stories that Kirby Larson, the author, found in reading homesteaders‘ diaries. In fact, Hattie is based on Larson‘s great-grandmother, also named Hattie, who homesteaded alone in Eastern Montana. The link of a wonderful novel to a real, inspiring story increased my enjoyment of the book even more, especially since I had doubts that a sixteen-year-old girl would ever try to homestead alone! I am sure I couldn‘t!
To complement the humor in Hattie Big Sky, there is also a serious side that adds a unique twist not found in most fictional homesteading novels. Central to the story are the ethnic relations between Americans and German immigrants during World War I. In the Author‘s Note, Larson tells readers, “My research quickly showed me I could not set a story in 1918 without speaking to the issue of anti-German sentiment.” This aspect of the book adds an extra layer of tension that increases the story‘s excitement and reveals more of Hattie‘s character. She must reconcile her belief in the American cause against Germany with the friendship she has with her German neighbors, not an easy thing to do! This conflict is the kicker for me, the most commendable part of the book. Don‘t get me wrong, I love the characters, the setting, and the writing, but the real driver of the story is the issue of racism against Germans. If Hattie didn‘t have to wrestle with racism the plot would collapse and the characters would be flat.
For all readers with a love of honest, loyal, and courageous characters, Hattie and her big Montana sky will capture your attention as she encounters many challenges and struggles in trying to homestead her claim and reconcile patriotism with friendship. You will find yourself pulled along as Hattie tries to turn Montana into her home. You will also laugh and cry as Hattie makes mistakes and muddles her way through her first year as a homesteader. If you have exhausted the ranks of average frontier stories, go to the nearest library or bookstore and get a copy of Hattie Big Sky to read.
Review by Sarah Y., Uni High School
Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson