This week’s starred review, Anna Keesey‘s debut, incorporates the traditional elements of the classic western or frontier novel. This is a genre that has been well-represented in adult books with teen appeal — I’m thinking of Alex Award-winning novels such as Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season and Thomas Maltman’s The Night Birds. Last year’s The Little Bride by Anna Solomon was among our Best of the Year.
Those three are, like Little Century, historical novels set in the west, but there are even more Alex titles set in the modern west: The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, The Floor of the Sky by Pamela Carter Joern, Peace like a River by Leif Enger and Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers.
An excellent long-form critical essay about Little Century on The Millions addresses its coming-of-age elements, questions about gender appeal, Keesey’s ability to combine lyrical writing and action suspense, character development and narrative momentum. The essay is a rare combination of literary criticism and appeal analysis.
And finally, there is an extensive interview with the author on NW Book Lovers titled “Introducing Anna Keesey and Her Feminist Western, Little Century.”
Adult/High School–Newly orphaned following the death of her mother, 18-year-old Esther Chambers lands in Century, Oregon with few options. Her only remaining relative, distant cousin Pick, has offered to set her up as a homesteader on land adjoining his ranch. But what does a girl from Chicago know about frontier living? Esther must learn to farm, care for her horse, and, most importantly, become a part of the community. The cattlemen of Two Forks Ranch are at odds with the sheepherders over grazing rights on parched, arid land. Esther finds herself making alliances on both sides as she struggles to understand a feud rife with unconscionable behavior. To complicate matters, she finds herself with a pair of suitors–handsome and established cattleman Pick, and magnetic Ben Cruff, an idealistic young sheepherder. Esther’s choice and its consequences will keep readers transfixed. Teens will be drawn in by an intelligent and independent heroine who follows both her head and heart as she comes of age and takes charge of her life. Compelling and engaging, Little Century explores the everyday struggles of pioneers in an approachable context. Keesey does a superb job fleshing out the secondary characters who populate Century, including an eccentric shopkeeper with a lending library and a love of nature, and the fiery, welcoming schoolteacher who teaches Esther to split her skirts to make more practical riding attire. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie tales will happily fall into this page-turner.–Paula Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD