I blame Little House on the Prairie for my interest in fiction about settlers and the West. There’s something about that era in American history that I love…something about surviving on the land and caring about things that were truly important, such as family, relationships and working to feed both oneself and neighboring farms and territories. So, when I saw News of the World on a list of book tours and saw that it was of that time, I jumped on it. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for the copy!
One thing you should know about News of the World is that, when I was about a quarter of the way in, the longlist for the 2016 National Book Award was announced, and News of the World was on it! It was starting a little slow for me, but that news definitely gave me a good kick to keep going, and I’m really glad I did!
The story begins when we meet an old man who travels around Northern Texas with a stack of newspapers from around the world. He stops in towns where folks aren’t privy to much news beyond their own town to read from his newspapers at quickly planned gatherings. Since this is his livelihood, he charges a dime to enter. At one of his stops, he meets a couple men who are traveling with a 10-year-old girl who has been “rescued” from her captivity with the Kiowa Indian tribe. Having been abducted from her family when she was very young, she doesn’t know anything other than being Kiowa. The men know our old man, Captain Kyle Kidd, is a traveler, so they pay him to take her on a journey south to live with relatives (her parents were killed in her abduction). Kidd accepts the challenge, and their long and treacherous journey begins.
The girl speaks no English, and Kidd speaks no Kiowa. The girl is called Johanna, forced to wear a dress, and begin to journey away from the only family and home she knows. Johanna and Kidd’s relationship is very volatile in the beginning, as neither has a reason to trust the other.
As the journey goes on, Johanna and Kidd begin to trust each other, and that trust is cemented when the two successfully fend off some unruly gentlemen out on the trail together.
Along the way, an interesting and unlikely relationship begins to form between the two. Johanna does things like visit a city for the first time, she’s forced to sleep inside for the first time, eat with silverware, and just learn how to live in a completely new culture. Kidd becomes a sort of guide to living life in a civilized society.
At first, I was really unsure about the author’s writing style. She uses a unique style without quotation marks – dialogue is just right in the paragraph. Here’s an example:
She’s gone and it’s my fault! Simon slapped himself on the thigh. It made a wet smack. Captain, I am so sorry!
He had to shout over the noise of the rain. He gripped his hat brim and ran alongside the Captain.
Never mind! the Captain shouted back. Can’t be helped!
It definitely took some time to get used to. Even at the end, I still wasn’t sure I liked it. The overall story, though, I fell in love with! It’s beautiful at times, and this really odd relationship ends up just being really fun to watch. I loved seeing Johanna begin to trust the Captain inch by inch, and he cares about her more inch by inch…I became really invested in their relationship, and loved all of the details.
Jiles’s writing is also really gorgeous. I found this passage especially moving:
She put down the doll and shouted at the Indians with her hands around her mouth. What could she possibly think would happen? That they would come for her? She was shouting for her mother, for her father and her sisters and brothers for the life on the Plains, traveling wherever the buffalo took them, she was calling for her people who followed water, lived with every contingency, were brave in the face of enemies, who could go without food or water or money or shoes or hats and did not care that they had neither mattresses nor chairs nor oil lamps. They stood and stared across the water at her like creatures of the sidhe, wet and shining in every flash from overhead.
Overall, I thought the story was really well done, and painted a vivid picture in my head of the landscape and the complexities and violence of the relationship between settlers and Indian tribes, but above all, this unlikely and heart-warming relationship that forms between this man of the old world and this girl wrenched from everything she knows. This is a recommended read from me!