Review: Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson. Random House, 2013. Available February 12, 2013.

Genre: Middle grade historical fiction

imagesFace Value: Hattie is looking good! Immediately her outfit cues us in to the era in which we will be reading, and the streetcars behind her lend a nod to the San Francisco setting. I think this is a prime example of a historical fiction cover that looks appropriately contemporary – young readers won’t think it looks “dated” – but still acknowledges the time period in which the book is set.

Does it break the slate? In this sequel to Hattie Big Sky, Hattie Inez Brooks continues to be the strong, independent woman we grew to know and love when she was homesteading on the Montana prairie. The interesting contrast in these books is that when working on her homestead, Hattie was mostly alone. She spent many hours a day puzzling through her challenges, and her failures affected her in a private way. Now that Hattie is living and working in San Francisco, there are dozens more people to witness her missteps – and she has to cope with her own misfortunes differently. It is a pleasure to read about how this smart, Slatebreaking young woman evolves in a different city.

Who would we give it to? Anyone who loved Hattie Big Sky should run out and get a copy of this book. I would also recommend it for young readers who are interested in writing as a career. Hattie forges her own writing career in this novel, and excellent tidbits of writing advice are woven throughout the story.

I noticed that this book felt a little more “YA” than the first. It is still appropriate for middle grade readers, but Hattie is approaching a more adult time in her life when she has to make choices about career and marriage. Slightly older or more mature middle grade level readers might enjoy that quality in this book.

Review: Sequels can be dangerous. If you loved the first book enough, a sequel can feel sacrilege. What if the author does something to the character that we hate? What if the character’s future doesn’t turn out the way we imagined it? What if the character doesn’t fall in love with the person we want them to love?! It can be a risky endeavor for a reader to pick up a sequel to a book that he or she adores.

Spoilers ahead!

Sarah reviewed Hattie Big Sky for our Frontier theme week, and she’s already covered the fact that Hattie is an honest-to-goodness Slatebreaker. Since Hattie was unable to make good on her homestead claim despite tremendous amounts of hard work, Larson was free to place Hattie in a completely different setting in Hattie Ever After. Thankfully, Hattie still exhibits all of the qualities that we love about her in her new home of San Francisco.

When an opportunity comes up for Hattie to leave her domestic help job and head to San Francisco with a travelling theatrical troupe, she jumps at the chance. With few family connections holding her back and her dearest friends living in Seattle, Hattie feels that San Francisco is an exciting place where she can grow in her independence and make a little cash in the meanwhile.

I loved seeing Hattie grow and change in San Francisco. The traits that allowed her to survive on the prairie served her in different ways in her new city – and some of those same traits even became setbacks. In Montana, Hattie had to be willing to trust her neighbors to help her out during hard times. In San Francisco, Hattie trusts a few people that she shouldn’t. The reader can see the deception but poor Hattie remains in the dark. Larson wrote these scenarios in a way that raises the stakes – I felt so completely invested in the outcome, and I couldn’t wait to see what Hattie would do once she found out.

There’s more romance in Hattie Ever After than there was in Hattie Big Sky, and it is immensely satisfying. I don’t want to give too much away, but I want to note that it is utterly charming. What I most appreciated about the romantic elements of the story is that Hattie manages to keep her head on straight, despite the overwhelming feelings she experiences. In her first major encounters with a beau, she always manages to talk sense into herself – even when she’s feeling a bit swoony.

Hattie ultimately has to decide which deserves more of her attention: her personal relationships, or her career. It can be an agonizing dilemma for any young woman to confront. Hattie handles the choice admirably, even though she has a few foibles along the way. Thankfully Larson gives us an ending that allows Hattie to have success in multiple areas of her life. Although the outcome may seem too good to be true, I accepted it and appreciated that Hattie was on her way to getting everything she wanted – even if that’s not always possible in real life.

Aside from the intriguing setting and lovable characters, the loads upon loads of impeccable historical detail truly enhance the story. Larson mentions in the postscript that she is a devoted researcher. This is apparent in every page of the book. Whether she is describing the fabric with which Hattie’s dress is made or the type of machinery used to print newspapers, every little detail shines. I felt as if I was bustling along 1920s San Francisco right next to Hattie. Several of the real-life events mentioned in the story sent me straight to Google to learn more. I believe that it is a mark of good historical fiction if the story makes me want to find out more about the era.

I think that Hattie fans will be very pleased with this follow-up to Hattie Big Sky. Although Hattie becomes more cosmopolitan in this book, she’s still the brazen young women we grew to love on the Montana prairie.

Reviewed from an ARC received via NetGalley.

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One Response to Review: Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

  1. Sarah says:

    I am so excited for this book!!

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