Monday, April 29, 2013

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

This novel is the sequel to Hattie Big Sky which was written in 2006. It's hard to write a sequel so many years after the first successful book but Larson does a reasonably good job. The conclusion to the Hattie story will garner Hattie, a new generation of fans.

Hattie Ever After picks up Hattie Inez Brooks' story after she has left her Uncle Chester's homestead. It is now June 1919 and Hattie has been working at Mrs. Brown's boardinghouse as a maid. She has just posted the final cheque payment to Mr. Nefzeger for her uncle's IOU. Hattie doesn't know what's next but she does know that she wants to be a reporter. And then there's the matter of her dear friend, Charlie who's returned safely from the trenches of World War I, and who wants to settle down and marry Hattie. It's not that Hattie doesn't love Charlie, but Hattie's not sure her place in the world is with Charlie.

Hattie's life takes a dramatic turn, when a vaudeville troupe, the Varietals, arrives at the boarding house, and the wardrobe mistress runs off with the magician! Impulsively, Hattie decides to accept an offer to travel to San Francisco with the Varietals, replacing the missing troupe member. At the same time that Hattie makes this decision, Charlie arrives in Great Falls with the news that he has been hired by The Boeing Airplane Company in Seattle, and with the intent of securing her hand in marriage. But Hattie tells him she cannot go with him, that homesteading has changed her and that there's more she needs to do before marrying. Charlie is understandably deeply hurt. Hattie has never told Charlie that she wasn't ready to marry and has led him into thinking that she was like minded. They part ways with Hattie promising to write and Charlie saying he may not be able to return the favour.

Hattie also learns that her Uncle Chester had a girlfriend, Ruby Danvers, who lives in San Francisco. She decides that she will contact Ruby when she gets to San Francisco and let her know about Chester's death.

Maude Kirk who is a member of the Varietals helps Hattie adjust to life with the troupe. Maude introduces Hattie to her brother, Ned who is a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle. It is apparent that Ned is very interested in Hattie but she either doesn't recognize his attentions for what they are or she ignores them.

Hattie has already applied for a job at the Chronicle, as a night time cleaner but she hopes to work her way into a reporter job. Ned gives her a tour of the building and believes she has applied for a job in the steno pool. As with Charlie, once again Hattie is not upfront with Ned, telling him only that she is working at the Chronicle leaving him to assume that she is part of the steno pool.

Ned tells Hattie that if she wants to become a reporter she has to write something that will grab people's interest and have a connection to the San Francisco area. So Hattie sets out to try to achieve her dream, while at the same time searching through the newspaper's back issues to learn more about her Uncle Chester. But what she finds shocks her and changes her view of who he was. When Charlie shows up in San Francisco unexpectedly, Hattie must deal with the conflict her attraction to him, her desire to be a reporter, and her relationship with Ned creates.

If Hattie Brooks was a likeable, strong willed, courageous young woman seeking her own identity in the first book, in this second book I found her at times to be impulsive and thoughtless. She is driven to become a reporter at all costs and leaves three jobs, one after another, to attain her goal (although her employers don't seem to mind much). Her treatment of Charlie and leading on of Ned are not impressive and I felt she was lucky in the end that Charlie was still interested. When she should have said something to these men, both of whom made their intentions known to her, she chose to ignore them and say nothing. It was like Hattie didn't want to lose Charlie but didn't want to lose the prospect of becoming a reporter either. She was trying to figure how to have both but yet was hurting Charlie in the process. Fortunately for Hattie, Charlie was willing to give her the time and space to figure things out on her own. It's possible we can excuse Hattie's behaviour because she was young, and as an orphan, had no mother to guide her on how to deal with men. But for me, this was a flaw in Hattie's character and one which I didn't particularly like. In the end, Hattie realizes that a job does not make a home and that she must take a risk in giving her heart to one person.

Larson definitely captured the flavour of early 20th century San Francisco very well. The inclusion of postcards from the period help make the story very realistic and informative. There are numerous references to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and in fact, Hattie herself experiences a small quake. It's evident that Larson has done considerable research (which she indicates at the back of the book). Imagine renting a room in a hotel for $2.50! or watching a vaudeville show. The author portrays just how fast society is beginning to change in the early 20th century with Hattie realizing that her skirts are too long, airplanes and cars are the newest fads, and women who were working during the war want to keep their jobs!

I liked the overall message at the end of the book, particularly that espoused by Hattie's fellow reporter Majorie D'Lacorte who tells her that a career isn't everything in life and that finding and keeping a good friend is very important. Majorie intimates to Hattie that her life isn't all glamour. She also tells Hattie to  rethink her idea that she can have either a career or marriage. Hattie's quest this past year has been to find a home and she has found the one person who can help her attain what she wants most in life.

Readers will enjoy the further adventures of Hattie with its satisfying and predictable ending.

Book Details:
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
New York: Delacourte Press     2013
230 pp.

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