- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; Reprint edition (August 8, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1419723502
- ISBN-13: 978-1419723506
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 39 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,109,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Steep and Thorny Way Paperback – August 8, 2017
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However, when I started reading it I wasn't at all interested in this book and there is one big reason why: There is too much going on. We have a biracial girl, homosexuality, the KKK, prohibition, eugenics, a murder, a ghost, the kitchen sink...did I forget anything? I dunno. The idea of a biracial girl in the 1920s was very interesting to me and if we could deal with maybe the KKK and the murder I would have been fine...but then other things were thrown in, things I just didn't care about. Then we have 18 characters. Ugh, my head is still spinning. The good news is at least there is a summary of them all on the first page. And I'm over the ghost thing. It didn't need to be in the book at all.
I plowed through the book until page 160 and then ditched it. This and her previous book failed to catch my attention. Its sad because Blackbirds was an outstanding book....simply amazing. Perhaps in this case less is more and some of the topics should have been saved for another book.
Diversity Rating: 4 – This is Our World
Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Hanalee is the biracial daughter of a black man and a white woman; her identity is central to the story)
QUILTBAG: 5 (Joe’s identity as a gay man is also central to the story)
Disability: 0 (Hanalee’s dad has a telltale limp as a ghost, but that’s it)
Intersectionality: 4 (between them, Hanalee and Joe say a lot about race and sexuality that’s still relevant today)
I just… What am I supposed to say? This novel is brilliant! I’ve been on the outs with YA historical novels lately for a variety of reasons and my history with Cat Winters’s YA novels didn’t create high expectations, but The Steep and Thorny Way completely blew me away! It’s what every historical YA novel should be. Let’s just get on with it.
Winters creates a vivid setting with Elston, Oregon and plants some incredible characters here as well. Hanalee, our Hamlet figure, is a though young woman and her anger is palpable whether it’s due to living in a racist town as a biracial girl or uncovering what really happened to her father. Her partner in crime/investigating Joe is just as well-written and challenges her when she needs it, such as when she needs to learn how much it sucks to be a gay man. The pair work well together as an investigative team trying to solve the mystery of Hanalee’s father’s real cause of death.
If you want a straight retelling of Hamlet, the novel isn’t going to give you one. The parallels are clear, but the story is its own creation. It simply builds from Shakespeare’s legendary play and becomes its own creature. As fun as straight retellings can be, it’s incredible when a book mixes the classic and the original well. Toward the second half of the novel, the story starts treading new territory and only gets better from there.
A great deal of YA historical novels are set in Victorian times or during World War II. Those stories are valid but can get a little boring after a while. That’s part of the reason The Steep and Thorny Way is so wonderful: it takes readers to a time and place they likely knew nothing about before and teaches them about that time/place without being didactic. Instead, it’s surprising at every turn and may make a future historian out of some readers. The systemic sterilization of gay men in the prison system, how much influence the Ku Klux Klan had in 1920s Oregon, and more were things I had no idea about and I consider myself a history buff!
Basically, if you want to be surprised and presented with something you know nothing about, The Steep and Thorny Way is an excellent bet. If all my talk seems rambling and nonsensical, it’s because putting words to a book this incredible is difficult. I’d rather shove the book in your face and make you experience the story for yourself.
For once, I’ve kept it short and sweet. Now quit wasting time here and go buy your own copy of The Steep and Thorny Way! This is what historical YA novels should aspire to be. Anyone who wants to write such a novel should read this as research, but I’m going to recommend this to anyone. (I recommend getting a print copy, however. Though I got an ebook of it for review, I had to purchase a print copy because the image-heavy ebook kept crashing both my laptop and my Nook. Now I regret nothing.)