Synopses & Reviews
December 19, 1917 Arlington, Iowa
Miss Simpson starts every day with a reminder to pray for you—and all the other boys who enlisted. Well, I say we should pray for the Kaiser—hes going to need those prayers once he meets you!
I ran into your mother today at Uncle Holts store. She said word is you are heading for England soon, France after that. I wont hardly be able to look at the map behind Miss Simpsons desk now; it will only remind me of how far you are from Arlington.
Mr. Whiskers says to tell you hes doing fine. Its been so cold, Ive been letting him sleep in my bedroom. If Aunt Ivy knew, shed pitch a fit. Thank goodness she finally decided I was too big to switch or my legs would be striped for certain.
You should see Aunt Ivy. Shes made herself a cunning white envelope of a hat with a bright red cross stitched on the edge. She wears it to all the Red Cross meetings. Guess she wants to make sure everybody knows shes a paid-up member. Shes been acting odd lately; even asked me this morning how was I feeling. First time in years shes inquired about my health. Peculiar. Maybe this Red Cross work has softened her heart.
Mildred Powells knitting her fifth pair of socks; theyre not all for you, so dont get swell-headed. Shes knitting them for the Red Cross. All the girls at school are. But I suspect the nicest pair she knits will be for you.
You must cut quite the figure in your uniform. A figure eight! (Ha, ha.) Seriously, I am certain you are going to make us all proud.
Aunt Ivys home from her meeting and calling for me. Ill sign off now but will write again soon.
Your school friend, Hattie Inez Brooks
I blotted the letter and slipped it in an envelope. Aunt Ivy wouldnt think twice about reading anything she found lying around, even if it was in my own room, on my own desk.
“Hattie,” Aunt Ivy called again. “Come down here!”
To be on the safe side, I slipped the envelope under my pillow, still damp from my good cry last night. Not that I was like Mildred Powell, who hadnt stopped boo-hooing since Charlie left. Only Mr. Whiskers and my pillow knew about my tears in the dark over Charlie. I did fret over his safety, but it was pure and sinful selfishness that wet my eyes at night.
In all my sixteen years, Charlie Hawley was one of the nicest things to happen to me. It was him whod stuck up for me when I first came to live with Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt, so shy I couldnt get my own name out. Hed walked me to school that very first day and every day after. Charlie was the one whod brought me Mr. Whiskers, a sorry-looking tomcat who purred his way into my heart. The one whod taught me how to pitch, and me a southpaw. So maybe I did spend a night now and then dreaming silly girl dreams about him, even though everyone knew he was sweet on Mildred. My bounce-around life had taught me that dreams were dangerous things—they look solid in your mind, but you just try to reach for them. Its like gathering clouds.
The class had voted to see Charlie off at the station. Mildred clung to his arm. His father clapped him on the back so often, I was certain hed end up bruised. Miss Simpson made a dull speech as she presented Charlie with a gift from the school: a wool stocking cap and some stationery.
“Time to get aboard, son,” the conductor called.
Something shifted in my heart as Charlie swung his foot up onto the train steps. I had told myself to hang back—didnt want to be lumped in with someone like Mildred—but I found myself running up to him and slipping something in his hand. “For luck!” I said. He glanced at the object and smiled. With a final wave, he boarded the train.
“Oh, Charlie!” Mildred leaned on Mrs. Hawley and sobbed.
“There, there.” Charlies mother patted Mildreds back.
Mr. Hawley took a bandanna from his pocket and made a big show of wiping his forehead. I pretended not to notice that he dabbed at his eyes, too.
The others made their way slowly down the platform, back to their cars. I stood watching the train a bit longer, picturing Charlie patting the pocket where hed placed the wishing stone Id given him. He was the one whod taught me about those, too. “Look for the black ones,” hed told me. “With the white ring around the middle. If you throw them over your left shoulder and make a wish, its sure to come true.” He threw his wishing rocks with abandon and laughed at me for not tossing even one. My wish wasnt the kind that could be granted by wishing rocks.
And now two months had passed since Charlie stepped on that train. With him gone, life was like a batch of biscuits without the baking powder: flat, flat, flat.
“Hattie!” Aunt Ivys voice was a warning.
“Yes, maam!” I scurried down the stairs.
She was holding court in her brown leather chair. Uncle Holt was settled into the hickory rocker, a stack of news- papers on his lap.
I slipped into the parlor and picked up my project, a pathetic pair of socks Id started back in October when Charlie enlisted. If the war lasted five more years, they might actually get finished. I held them up, peering through a filigree of dropped stitches. Not even a good chum like Charlie could be expected to wear these.
“I had a lovely visit with Iantha Wells today.” Aunt Ivy unpinned her Red Cross hat. “You remember Iantha, dont you, Holt?”
“Hmmm.” Uncle Holt shook the newspaper into shape.
“I told her what a fine help you were around here, Hattie.”
I dropped another stitch. To hear her tell it most days, there was no end to my flaws in the domesticity department.
“I myself never finished high school. Not any sense in it for some girls.”
Uncle Holt lowered one corner of the paper. I dropped another stitch. Something was up.
“No sense at all. Not when theres folks like Iantha Wells needing help at her boardinghouse.”
There. It was out. Now I knew why she had been so kind to me lately. Shed found a way to get rid of me.
From the Hardcover edition.
"[A] delightful and empowering book for young women who will enjoy some of the eccentric Montana characters as much as Hattie's forthrightness and intimate concerns." Children's Literature
"An unusual YA novel, an old-fashioned one, but moving and inspiring all the same." KLIATT
"This fine offering may well inspire readers to find out more about their own family histories." Kirkus Reviews
"Writing in figurative language that draws on nature and domestic detail to infuse her story with the sounds, smells, and sights of the prairie, [Larson] creates a richly textured novel full of memorable characters." Booklist
Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle's homesteading claim.
For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie's been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle's homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends especially Charlie, fighting in France through letters and articles for her hometown paper.
Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a "Loyal" American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie's determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.
About the Author
After Kirby Larson heard a snippet of a story about her great-grandmother homesteading in eastern Montana, she spent three years working on this story. The author lives in Kenmore, WA.
Reading Group Guide
1. Describe Hatties relationship with Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt. What does Uncle Holt see in Hattie that Aunt Ivy doesnt? How does Uncle Holt continue to support Hattie after she moves to Montana?
2. Hattie travels to Montana on the Great Northern Railway. She reads a pamphlet on the train that describes Montana as “the land of milk and honey.” Discuss Hatties first impression of Montana. How might Hattie describe this land by the end of the novel? In the last chapter, Hattie goes to Seattle. What does she expect to find there that she doesnt have in Montana?
3. Explain what Perilee Mueller means when she tells Hattie that her resemblance to Uncle Chester goes beyond looks. How does this give Hattie a sense of family? Why are the items in Uncle Chesters trunk so important to Hattie? There are many mysterious things about Uncle Chester. How does this mystery give Hattie the courage and determination to prove up on the claim?
4. Perilee and Karl Mueller meet Hattie at the train, and welcome her to their family. How does their relationship grow as the novel progresses?
5. Karl Mueller is mistreated by the citizens of Vida because he is German. How does Hatties friendship with Karl and Perilee make her a victim of bullying? How do the bullies create an atmosphere of mistrust and fear? At what point does Hattie experience the most fear? She says, “The worst thing of all is standing by when folks are doing something wrong.” (p. 164) Explain how Hattie attempts to right the wrongs.
6. Hattie says, “I guessed Charlie and I were in the same boat. Wed both signed on for something wed envisioned as heroic and glamorous.” (p. 120) How is Hatties effort to save her uncles claim heroic? Discuss how Charlie's idea of a hero changes after he witnesses the death of his comrades.
7. Describe how Hattie changes in the year that she spends on the Montana prairie. Debate whether her idea of “home” is different by the end of the novel. Hattie says, “Id arrived alone, and I wanted to leave that way.” (p.282) Why is this so important to her? How is she a success even though tragedy prevented her from proving the claim?
8. At the beginning of the novel, Hattie says, “My bounce around life had taught me that dreams were dangerous things.” (p. 3) Why was Hattie so afraid of dreams? How does she learn that dreams do come true? What about Charlie? Do his dreams come true? How do their dreams collide?