HARDSCRABBLE, by Sandra Dallas, Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2018, Hardcover, $15.95 (ages 8-11)
I’ve been a fan of Sandra Dallas for some years now. She’s the author of 15 adult novels, three young reader novels and two nonfiction books. I first discovered her work while working as the in-house book critic for a newspaper in Salt Lake City, and I was hooked. Not only are her themes of friendship and overcoming adversity universal, but her settings the American West pull at my heart, too.
I truly enjoyed Sandra’s first middle-grade novel, The Quilt Walk, and was excited when her third, Hardscrabble, landed on my doorstep.
In 1910, after losing their farm in Iowa, the Martin family moves to Mingo, Colorado, to start anew. The US government offers 320 acres of land free to homesteaders. All they have to do is live on the land for five years and farm it. So twelve-year-old Belle Martin, along with her mother and six siblings, moves west to join her father. But while the land is free, farming is difficult and it’s a hardscrabble life. Natural disasters such as storms and locusts threaten their success. And heartbreaking losses challenge their faith. Do the Martins have what it takes to not only survive but thrive in their new prairie life? —synopsis provided by Sleeping Bear Press
As I mentioned above, Sandra’s choice of the American West as a setting always pulls at my heartstrings. My own ancestors crossed the plains and settled in the West when things were less than ideal. And though Hardscrabble isn’t set in the exact same place or time as where my family was, I imagine they faced similar trials.
It’s easy to be swept away with Sandra’s story. Belle is a likeable young woman for whom much more is expected than that of 12-year-olds today. In many ways, Belle is both a child and adult, and that’s what makes this book so enjoyable across the ages.
Though written for middle-graders, Sandra’s writing feels ageless. Hardscrabble is a quick and engrossing read that will have you looking for more books by the same author.
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