When sixteen year-old Hattie Brooks receives the message that she has inherited her uncle’s homestead claim in Vida, Montana, it solves some of her immediate problems. She now has a place of her own, away from Arlington, Iowa and her spiteful aunt, one of the many relatives she’s lived with since her parents died.
As it happens, she simply trades one set of problems for another, except this time, she invests more than hard labor. She invests herself in becoming a neighbor, a friend, and a responsible member of her community. The scrubby parcel of land boasts nothing but a nine- by twelve-foot claim shack to live in and a barn to house a range horse and a cranky milk cow.
Her tasks are daunting. In order to prove the claim, she has to cultivate one-eighth of the claim, forty acres, and set four hundred eighty rods of fence–all within the remaining ten months of the claim. One of Hattie’s challenges is just to get through the Montana winter. Nothing productive toward working her claim can even be started until the ground thaws.
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is a delightful book written in first-person. Throughout the book she corresponds with a school chum, Charlie, who is fighting WW1 in France, and to her uncle, husband of the spiteful aunt. Through her uncle’s efforts, she becomes published in the Arlington paper and receives a small monthly income that sees her through an otherwise bleak existence. Hattie’s struggle for survival is shown in vivid detail and readers learn to admire this young woman’s grit, determination and humor. Hattie is capable of grinding hard work and raw courage, but is also the frequent recipient of the kindness of neighbors. She repays these kindnesses in her own way, endearing and binding her to the kind of friendships she has never known before.
Although this book is considered a Young Adult genre, it is delightful for any age. Hattie Big Sky is fashioned after the author’s own family history and its authenticity is obvious from the very first page.