I have always considered myself to be pretty independent. I had a job at 16, worked my way through college and lived on my own. I can put things together and will even unclog a sink or hang a light fixture if the need arises. Overall, I am pretty confident I can tackle most problems that may come up - but after reading Hattie Big Sky, my confidence was put in check.
Hattie Big Sky was inspired by the author’s great-grandmother, who independently ran a Montana homestead as a young woman. Knowing the story was based on true experiences makes this book even more inspirational and fun to read.
Hattie was orphaned “before [she’d] lost [her] baby teeth” and was passed around between poor relatives until Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt (a distant cousin) took her in when she was 13. Aunt Ivy was not a loving influence and delighted in telling Hattie that she had “nothing and no one” and that she should “count [her] blessings.” Luckily, Hattie had a sometimes ally in her reserved Uncle Holt, and just when Aunt Ivy was ready to send her to work at a boardinghouse, he produced a letter. The letter was from her recently deceased Uncle Chester, who had a 320-acre claim staked in Montana and has left it to her. If she is able to meet the remaining requirements, the land would be hers.
So, as a 16-year old girl, she sets off to Montana where she finds a rundown house, (“Aunt Ivy’s chicken’s had better accommodations”), an ornery milk cow, an old horse, and a lot of work. To top it all off, there is unrest everywhere because of the war and she finds herself caught between perceived loyalty to her country and loyalty to her new friends.
Hattie is spunky and her letters to Uncle Holt and to her best friend Charlie (who is fighting the war in France) show off her humorous side. Uncle Holt even shares her letters with a local newspaper where they print her unique insights and experiences.
The rest of the story is almost unbelievable, but becomes remarkable because of her resourcefulness, hard work, stubbornness, kindness and integrity. It is hard to believe that a young girl should ever have that kind of pressure, but through it all she becomes stronger and she finally finds a family.
The title doesn’t do this book any favors, but the story is a great one and I look forward to reading the sequel, Hattie Ever After, coming out February 12, 2013.
Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson
2007 Newbery Honor book
Recommended for ages 9 and up
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Yearling; Reissue edition (December 23, 2008)