Hattie Brooks thinks of herself as Hattie Here-and-There, due to the transient nature of her life since the death of her parents when she was a young girl. Since that time she has been shunted from one relative to another, never finding that which she most wants, a place to call home. Now 16 and living in Iowa with Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt, who aren’t her aunt and uncle at all, but distant cousins, and where she has made friends, learned to play baseball, and where she writes to her friend Charlie, a soldier about to be sent overseas, Hattie learns that she is about to be sent away yet again. Aunt Ivy has arranged for Hattie to take a job in a boarding house before she has even finished school. In 1917, when education for young women was not thought important, this is not such an unusual arrangement, but it does not please Hattie.
Hattie is saved from the boarding house, however, by an opportunity presented in a letter, a letter from someone she has never met. An uncle Hattie never knew has died and left her his homestead in Montana. Hattie seizes the opportunity to make a home for herself, takes her few belongings and what savings she has in the bank and buys a train ticket. In Montana, Hattie learns that there is still much work to do to prove up her uncle’s homestead, as well as a time limit in which to do the work. Undaunted, she sets about the task of working the land and making herself at home. She makes friends with her neighbors and supports her friend Perilee, whose husband Karl is becoming increasingly ostracized by distrustful residents because he was born in Germany, the country with whom we are at war.
Hattie revels in her successful endeavors and learns from her mistakes, all the while looking to the future when the land will be officially hers. She continues to write to and worry about Charlie, at the same time wondering how Traft Martin, a young man from a nearby ranch, has managed to avoid military service. Hattie eventually comes to think of herself as Hattie Big Sky, no longer Hattie Here-and There, no longer depending on someone else to provide a home, but a strong and resilient young woman who has learned to rely on herself.
Anyone who enjoys historical fiction has read countless novels about homesteading in the American West, but this one is a little different due to the time period in which it is set. It is a time of both horse-and-wagon and automobile, a time when the world is moving forward, yet keeps a firm foothold in the past. It is a story that allows us to see how the far reaching effect of a distant war plays out in a small community and the consequences it brings to everyday life. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Review by Lina Crowell, Children's Librarian