Saturday 29 July 2023

The Steep and Thorny Way

Finished July 20
The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Set in small town Oregon in the summer of 1923, this teen novel follows biracial Hanalee Denney as she tries to make sense of the stories she hears about her father's death over a year earlier. 
Hanalee's parents met by chance in Portland, and went to Washington state to get married as Oregon did not allow a black man and a white woman to marry. They returned to the small town her mother, Greta was from, and farmed there. 
Now the young man, Joe Adder, who was convicted of killing her father Hank, but hitting him with his car is out of jail. Joe is back in town, but not accepted back into his father's house, and is sheltering in sheds and abandoned buildings. He's back to talk to her, because he promised her father he would keep an eye on her. 
Since her father's death, Greta has married long-time family friend Clyde Koning, a local doctor, and he now lives in Greta's family's home. When Joe insists that he didn't kill her father, and there was someone else who saw him alone before he died, Hanalee starts asking questions. 
When a local girl insists that she's seen Hank's ghost and that he is trying to talk to Hanalee, Hanalee has to decide whether to accept help to try to see this ghost herself and find out what her father so desperately has to say. 
This novel taught me a lot about this time period in Oregon. The Ku Klux Klan was very active in the state, and was particularly trying to gain influence over the younger generation. This was also a time of bootlegging, with it being Prohibition, and many local men ran stills and hired others to deliver their products. It was also a time of other prejudices besides racial ones, and that is part of this story as well. 
There is a lot going on, but Hanalee must face up to what is happening in her town, and how it affects her and those she cares about personally. This is a coming of age story in a difficult time under difficult circumstances, and the characters feel very real. I also found it interesting that portions of the plot were inspired by Hamlet.
A great read. 

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