Friday, February 10, 2012
Audiobook Review: Hattie Big Sky
Larson, Kirby. Hattie Big Sky. 2007. Listening Library. Audiobook $37.00. ISBN 9780739350515.
I never knew I was interested in the adventures of a girl trying to prove up on a homesteading claim in 1918 Montana until Kirby Larson wrote Hattie Big Sky. I love it when a book surprises me like that.
Sixteen-year-old orphan, Hattie, inherits a piece of land that must be "proved up" on before it's hers, meaning that she must show evidence that she's living there and must meet certain farming requirements before the land is officially hers. She doesn't know a thing about farming, but she's up for the challenge.
The hardships of homesteading life are brought into vivid detail by Larson, who must have done extensive research. In addition to a multidimensional cast of characters that the reader grows to love and an episodic plot that borders on survival story at times, the setting and time period of the story are fascinating to me. Hattie is facing this incredibly intense pioneer lifestyle-- in 1918. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't know people were still homesteading in 1918!
By that time, most people in urban or suburban areas were living comfortably with indoor plumbing and automobiles, not living in a tiny shack and hammering fence posts into the ground. Hattie's struggles to reach her own barn in a blizzard are juxtaposed with a sobering portrayal of the prejudice against German Americans during World War I, and the combination of these elements makes for a truly unique setting. Much more Little House on the Prairie than Betsy-Tacy.
The story has a satisfying and realistic ending that leaves the door open for more, so I just about squealed aloud when I read that Larson is working on a Hattie sequel. I can't wait to spend more time with this character.
I'm glad I experienced this most excellent book in audio format. Kirsten Potter's engaging narration made my daily commute much more vibrant than usual. Her voice sounds a bit more mature than I would imagine Hattie, but she's got a strong, down-to-earth quality that really works for the character. Potter makes the listener believe that this girl is no cream puff-- she's a driven young woman, and she's going to do everything in her power to succeed.
My children, ages three and one, are often subjected to random bits and pieces of whatever audiobook I'm listening to, and let's just say they don't hesitate to give me their opinions. (Seriously: there was another audiobook that actually made the one-year-old CRY every time we listened to it. Oops!) Well, Hattie got an enthusiastic seal of approval from my three-year-old. There's a particularly exciting chapter involving a cow, and every time we got into the car after that, it was, "Mama? Can listen to cow story, please?" We all loved this audiobook.
Hattie Big Sky was named a Newbery Honor book in 2007, and is very deserving of the award. I would recommend this rich and uplifting book to students assigned to read historical fiction for school, as well as readers who are already avid fans of the genre-- it's certain to please most any reader.