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News of the World, Paulette Jiles, William Morrow, 2016, 209 pp
I loved this book! It is historical fiction set in Texas during the years after the Civil War. In my last review I mentioned prevailing themes. This one also falls in the Girls Gone Grit theme, but another one is developing. I will just call it Tales of Texas.
The characters in this novel are outlandish, of course, because it is Texas but they became so real to me, I felt I could reach into the book and touch them. The grit girl is Johanna Leonberger who was captured by a band of Kiowa Indian raiders after they slaughtered her parents and sisters. She was raised as a Kiowa child from the age of six. Now she is 10 and has been recovered by the United States Army.
Apparently this was a common occurrence in frontier areas. In fact, one of the main characters in The Son, by Philip Meyer, a difficult novel set in Texas that I read a few years ago, was such a person. News of the World is, in part, a story of the psychological effect of this trauma, capture, becoming Native American, and then the culture shock of returning to the White settler life.
Captain Kidd is an aging widower, veteran of three wars, who has become a drifter traveling north and south through central Texas. He gives readings from newspapers for which he charges his listeners. In remote towns where newspapers often do not penetrate and where the inhabitants are barely literate, his audiences gather and pay their dime, hungry for news of the world.
One day, in Wichita Falls, Texas, near the southern border of what was still Indian Territory but is now Oklahoma, he is offered a sizable sum to deliver Johanna to her people near San Antonio, four hundred miles away. He accepts the task.
Most of the story follows their arduous journey. Somehow Captain Kidd must keep making money from his readings, care for a little girl who is wild, speaks no English, won't wear shoes, and gets wigged out if she has to be indoors for any length of time. Despite all the dangers, lawlessness, thieves, and a dastardly trio of cutthroats who are trying to get Johanna back, they make it.
By the time they reach San Antonio, Johanna can speak English, count money, and has consented to wear a dress and shoes, sometimes. Her Native American skills have also saved their lives a couple times! She and the Captain forge a bond that is a wondrous development to read about.
The real challenge however, one of both the mind and the heart of each of them, comes at the end of their odyssey. I won't spoil that for you except to say that the Captain is a proper hero and Johanna a kick ass heroine.
(News of the World is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)