Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A quieter place

Historical fiction is usually a quieter read than paranormal, dsytopian or fantasy. But that doesn't mean it can't transport you to another land and leave you breathless.

I just finished Jennifer Donnelly's A NORTHERN LIGHT, a Printz Honor book, and a while back I read Kirby Larson's HATTIE BIG SKY, a Newbury Honor book.

They are lovely, nuanced stories that are not without traumas. One of the things that intrigued me was that the authors had been drawn to write these novels by real-life events. Kirby Larson's tale grew from a family story about a great-grandmother who homesteaded by herself. Jennifer Donnelly, too, had family stories handed down from relatives who lived in the Adirondacks--the site of a murder that made sensational news in 1906.

Both authors also researched historic documents so the books are filled with authentic detail and a sense of having walked in the shoes of those who came before us. My editions include bibliographies of works the authors read to better know the time and place of their stories.

I'm going to give you teasers. A bit of blurb and sample to perhaps lure you into these fine books.

For most of her life, sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been shuttled from one distant relative to another. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she summons the courage to leave Iowa and move all by herself to Vida, Montana, to prove up her late uncle's homestead claim. (from back cover)
One minuscule step at a time, I battled toward the barn, praying for help: "Lord, I can't do this alone." But no help came. It was up to me. I drew in an icy, ragged breath. I couldn't fail. Couldn't lose my way. Or lose my cow. That thought propelled me forward the last few steps. Finally, finally, I reached the barn, gasping and sobbing for air. My face was raw. I tasted the salt of blood trickling down my cheeks.
A NORTHERN LIGHT is set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Donnelly's novel puts a teenager trying to escape a hardscrabble life in the middle of the mystery surrounding another girl's death.
It was dry and remarkably warm for the start of April, and I was tired and dirty and dripping with sweat. The muscles in my arms ached and my hands were raw from guiding the plow and I was just as mad as a hornet. Pa had kept me home from school again. . .
Can't resist another sample:
I sat slumped on my milking stool, knowing that the last chance I had to go to Barnard was on its way into the till of some bartender. Knowing that my uncle was off on a three-day spree. Or four. Or five. Or however many days it took to spend a hundred dollars. It was a hard and hopeless thing.
So, yeah. We learn a lot about our present by delving into our past. Hope you pick these books up if you haven't read them yet.


Stephanie Faris said...

I've never been much for historical novels. History just doesn't interest me as much as the present day. I don't really care for futuristic novels either. Personal taste, I guess, although occasionally I'll read a historical/futuristic that I love.

Donna said...

I read only historical novels for a time as a teenage. History didn't mean much to me unless I could identify with a character in a novel. Most of us have family stories that could be inspiration for a novel. Those sound wonderful, but young readers have their druthers. Many on my list, like Stephanie, want stories about today.

Unknown said...

I haven't read too many YA historicals. Most of my historic novels that I read were back in the days when I devoured historical romances. :)

Faith Pray said...

Tricia, I loved "Hattie Big Sky." Like you said, it has a subtle touch, yet is so strong and well-written. When I finished, I was wishing for a sequel. I'm very glad of the recommendation for "A Northern Light." I'll put it on my Reading list.

XiXi said...

I've always wanted an opinion on A Northern Light, because the blurb was so intriguing. Thanks for the suggestions!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stephanie: I read across genres. If the book's good, I'll read wherever it's set. :)

Donna: I think it's how you define historical, because I know you like Susan Straight's A Million Nightingales, which is historical.

Stina: I read a few of those myself back in the day. ;)

Faith: I really like the strength of both these girls, despite the hardships they endure. And both writers are sooooo good. I hope you do read A Northern LIght. I think you'll enjoy it.

IcyRoses: Hi! Oh, I'm glad you're interested and sure hope you like it.

Wen Baragrey said...

I just started Hattie Big Sky! I'm really enjoying it so far. I love historicals... and just about everything else.


I actually have been wanting to read a historical fiction. I have heard beautiful things about this book. I might just pick it up Lovely review!

Liza said...

Two books, added to my list. Thanks Tricia.

storyqueen said...

I've read Kirby's book. Very worth of that little seal on the front!

Is the other by the same Jennifer Donnelly that wrote Revolution? Lots of buzz about that book in the fall, but I haven't read it yet.

Great picks. (and I LoVED the poems on the last post. Sigh. I could not even pick a favorite. I just felt this compelling need to write some poetry....maybe this weekend.)


Donna said...

I can still get happily lost in historical novels, but I had a mania for them when I was younger. I meant that some of my young friends are committed to reading about the present.

Lisa Gail Green said...

They both sound like wonderful books. After paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi, I would say historical fiction is my next favorite genre because it really does feel like a different world if done right!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wen: Are we, like, mentally connected or what? I love that you're reading Hattie Big Sky. I had won my personally autographed copy by participating in a discussion Kirby Larson had on her site once. :D

Victoria: Hi there! Both books are worth reading if you're looking to delve into some historical YA.

Liza: Yay! Thank YOU.

Shelley: Oh, yeah, both are seal-worthy. And, yes, that is the same Jennifer Donnelly. REVOLUTION slips between contemporary and historical with a dab of the magical.
*smiles over poetry*

LisaGail: Hi and welcome! I, too, mostly read paranormal/fantasy/dystopian, but show me a good book of any kind and I'm all over it. ;)

Bish Denham said...

I love a good historical novel. Read Hattie Big Sky and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll have to look into A Northern Light.

Catherine Denton said...

Oh those sound wonderful!

Char said...

i like a well written book, no matter the genre - that is the joy of reading. love the descriptive text you included here, especially with the second. the subject matter reminds me of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" - the hardships overcame of having alcoholic parents (or parent substitutes)

Paul Greci said...

I haven't read these books yet. But I did just finish Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus--a beautiful historical story and one of this years newberry honor books!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: Yes, please do. I'm pretty sure you will like it.

Catherine: Yup!

Char: That's how I feel. And, yes, she has a tough life, but learns what she needs to survive.

Paul: I haven't read that. I'll be checking it out. Thanks!

Sarah Laurence said...

A Northern Light is in my to read pile, and your review just bumped it up the stack a notch.

VR Barkowski said...

I love historicals but usually prefer they be set outside the US. That said, I recently finished Jennifer Donnelly's REVOLUTION, which I enjoyed very much. Maybe I'll give A NORTHERN LIGHT a try.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

SarahL: That makes me smile. I hope you enjoy it.

Viva: Revolution surprised me because of the genre-mix. A Northern Light is straight up historical.

Sherrie Petersen said...

My son had to read Hattie for school and he greatly disliked it. But he didn't like many of the books he "had" to read last year. That always bums me out.

Tess said...

A Northern Light is SO amazing because it does not read like a historical is about people and relationships and feels so fresh and timely as you're reading it. Loved, loved that novel.

Also enjoyed Hattie Big Sky very much..such spunk that girl has!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sherrie: Maybe kids should have the choice of books they read. There are tons of great books, and the kids might like them more if they can pick for the mood they're in.

Tess: Oh, yes, you're right, it does feel timely. I'm glad we both love these books. :D

Robyn Campbell said...

Pat, HATTIE BIG SKY is one of the best books ever. So well written. A writer can learn TONS of stuff from reading that book. Did ya notice that?

A NORTHERN LIGHT is on my list to read for this year. I think I'll post my books this week over at my place.

Thursday coming fast. *gulp*

Suzanne Casamento said...

Wow. Those snippets are riveting. I have to read those books!

Anonymous said...

I occasionally read historical fiction, or genre fiction that takes place long ago. It's a treat. Historicals seem like they may be quiet, but the ones I've read are quite action-packed.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Robyn: One of the things I love about reading a good book is how much I learn from what makes it work.
You know, you'll be in my thoughts Thursday.

Suzanne: Oh, I'm so pleased you enjoyed the snippets and will check out these wonderful stories.

Medeia: I'm so glad I enjoy reading across genres. There is such variety and adventure.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I haven't read or heard of these books. So glad you posted about them. I do love recommendations on books I've never seen.

I'm so looking forward to a few historical fiction books coming out soon - May B by Caroline Starr Rose and With A Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

TerryLynn: I can't wait for Caroline's and Tess's books, too!