Little Century by Anna Keesey
On this final day of 2012, this could easily be me (replacing ‘Esther’ with my name and ‘her journey’ with this year): “Though she would not have admitted to any fixed expectations, Esther is still confounded by what meets her at the end of her journey.” I wholeheartedly admit to being utterly discombobulated by what this year has brought and wrought!
But I digress (again), because the sentence above is actually the opening line to Anna Keesey’s debut novel, one of those anointed titles that blessedly appears on multiple ‘best-of’ 2012 lists. That might be enough to send you to shopping, so feel free to start ordering now; if you’re hemming and hawing about choosing between ‘on-the-page’ and ‘stuck-in-the-ears,’ be assured that Tavia Gilbert vibrantly animates Century‘s memorably diverse characters.
At 18, Esther Chambers – a city girl from Chicago – becomes an orphan when her mother passes away. With nowhere else to go, she embarks on a four-day journey to the wild West of Century, Oregon, the home of her distant cousin Ferris Pickett. She sees in Ferris her last vestige of family as he is her only living relative; he recognizes in her a business opportunity when he asks her to “help out [her] old cousin,” by lying about her age in order to stake a claim on a nearby homestead. Ferris owns Two Forks, a cattle ranch next to what will become Esther’s new home – a small cabin on a lake called Half-a-Mind – which also happens to be “the only piece left with water on it east of the mountains.” Ranching, farming, frontier survival all depend on access to water …
Settling into her unfamiliar new life (which Esther records in bittersweetly undeliverable letters to her late mother) is eased by establishing relationships with her fellow residents: the feisty schoolteacher with a past Jane Fremont, the good Reverend Endicott, the nosy busybody Violet Fowler, the portly newspaper editor Mr. Cecil, the enigmatic worldly shopkeeper Joe Peaslee. Keesey’s characters are perhaps imbued with more symbolism than realism, but each has a story – some are local legends, some are just rumor, some are tall tales, and a few are actual truth.
As remote as the town might initially seem, the residents are hardly strangers to the ugly lure of greed and power. Even with the vast, open lands, the struggles for ownership and control are enough to incite regular violence – and worse. Esther begins to question her sense of familial duty, especially when she tentatively welcomes a friendship with an earnest young man from the wrong side of the cliff. All too soon, her Half-a-Mind adventures will need a whole lot of courageous integrity …
Readers: Young Adult, Adult