Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg

The Year We Were FamousThis is a novel aimed at ages 12 and up but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am way past 12... The year is 1896, the setting a small, struggling farm in Washington state. The mother, Helga rarely gets out of bed, the father has a back problem, there are a total of 8 living children, the oldest being Clara. Clara has to take care of everything.. but there's one thing she cannot do: save their family's farm.

So.. her mom comes up with this idea: they will walk all the way from Spokane to New York. Yes, I said walk, no taking trains or anything. They find a publisher willing to pay them ten grand to do this.. upon arrival by a deadline, of course. So Helga and Clara set off..

They fight bad weather, shoot a man, meet nice people, chop wood, wear out their shoes, teach Indians to use a curling iron, survive a flash flood and sprained ankle, and meet a future president. And along the way, they argue, bicker, and secrets come to the surface. Meanwhile, Clara is trying to convince a suitor back home that she really does not want to marry and settle down.

Even if they make it to NY... and on time.. they may not save their farm, but they can certainly prove the endurance of women.

Laugh out moments: 

In a postscript from a letter Clara writes: Ma had a chance to trade me to a Ute brave for three horses, but she decided to keep me.

The Wyoming chapter headings go like this: Somewhere in Wyoming, Still nowhere, Wyoming, Between nowhere and more nowhere, Wyoming... 

I liked this book, but I have one quibble preventing it from being a five star read. I couldn't stand Helga. She's a horrible mother. She gets herself shoes over her daughter, she goes on a ridiculous gold finding whim with no regard to her daughter or their deadline, she gives Clara credit for nothing and doesn't even print her name on their cards.. It's Helga and daughter. She breaks bad news to Clara and expects her to just deal with it. Frankly, I found Helga to be one of the most selfish mothers I have ever read about. 

Clara says, "I was just 'and daughter' like something else she had packed in her satchel and brought out in emergencies. Need someone shot? Need someone to drag you through the lava fields? Whip out your trusty Clara; she'll take care of it."

This novel is based on the author's ancestors. 

Four stars. I received this ARC from the publisher. Quotes may not be exact in the published book.

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