I couldn't put Hattie Big Sky down. Could not. Put it. Down.
Born in 1902 and orphaned at an early age, Hattie Brooks has bounced from distant relative to distant relative for most of her life. At age 16, just as she's about to be pushed on and out again, she receives an unexpected bundle of letters from Montana. It includes a will:
Being of sound mind, I do hereby leave to Hattie Inez Brooks my claim and the house and its contents, as well as one steadfast horse named Plug and a contemptible cow known as Violet.
Signed, Chester Hubert Wright,
Uncle to Hattie Inez Brooks
Postscript: H--Bring warm clothes and a cat.
Within two weeks (and less than fifteen pages), Hattie is on a train bound for her claim. Her first twenty-four hours are eye-opening: She discovers that before her Uncle Chester's three years are up, she's expected to cultivate an eighth of her 320 acres and set 480 rods of fence. There are ten months left -- and it's January.
Aside from an amazing amount of work, Hattie has to contend with mice, bedbugs and wolves, Violet's violent tendencies, wild horses and snowstorms. She feels blessed by her friendship with the Mueller family, who not only help her through her first (very difficult) weeks, but who also become her good friends -- adopted family, even. She feels less enthusiastic about some of her other neighbors, who are so "patriotic" that they feel justified in bullying, threatening and even attacking others because of their country of origin.
Hattie Big Sky has a little something for everyone -- adventure, survival, family, friendship, romance, tension, a home front war story, suspense and of course, history. It also has rich descriptions and complex characters -- when I finished the book, I was sad to let them go and even now, days later, I'm still trying to work out my mixed feelings about one of them. It made me laugh (out loud) and it made me cry (a lot).
Good Book, Highly Recommended.