Title: The Steep & Thorny Way
Genre: YA Paranormal Historical Fiction
Release Date: March 8th 2016 from Amulet Books
Format: Library Ebook
Goodreads Synopsis: 1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now the killer is out of jail and back in town, and he’s claiming that Hanalee’s father’s death wasn’t an accident at all. Instead, he says that Hank was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who just so happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather. In order to get the answers she needs, Hanalee will have to ask a “haint” wandering the roads at
night—her father himself.
I was going through my library Overdrive app and saw that this book was available. I loved her two previous books I read, so I picked this up and finished it in 5 days (which is good for me). This is another hit from Mrs. Winters! Here’s five reasons why you should check this book out:
1. Scary History Lesson: When I met Cat Winters back in September, she talked about how she was writing this book. When she mentioned that the KKK was in Oregon in the 1920’s, I was really surprised. I don’t have a great history on this group of people; I thought they just stayed in the south. But oh man this book goes to terrifyingly real depths. The town of Elston has a group of the Klan in town and Hanalee witnesses some of the terrible things firsthand from these people. Back then, the Eugenics movement wanted to sterilize people who were “feeble minded, promiscuous and different skin colors” while steep prejudices against people of color were still strong. There many times that I was gripping my Kindle as the tension almost made me cry from both terror and anger. Here a few examples of the horrible things history has to show:
“I’m like you, Hanalee.” His dark eyes glistened a few inches from mine. “I’ve got people who hate me and want to hurt me. There are doctors in that prison-barbarians with medical degrees who’ll do unspeakable things to change me if I ever go back. There’s no way in hell I’m going back there.” (pg. 66)
“He told me he believed that surgically removing a part of my body would do me good.” My arms went cold. “What are you even talking about? What body parts are people in prisons removing?”
Joe bit down on his pink bottom lip until the skin turned white. “Castration.” He shot me a stare that pierced through my heart. “Do you know what that is?”
“Yes.” I nodded, my chest tightening. “I’ve lived in farm country my whole life. I know what they do to bulls to tame them and keep them from mating with the cows.”
“The government is taking upon itself to do the same thing to certain inmates. ‘Eugenics,’ they’re calling it. Forced sterilization.” (pg. 88-89)
“Hate doesn’t even describe what’s happening.” Joe turned back around with the lanterns shining across his eyes. “People in this state are controlling who and can’t breed, Hanalee. They’re eradicating those of us who aren’t white, Protestant, American-born, or sexually normal in their eyes. They’re ‘purifying’ Oregon.” (pg. 124-125)
2. If you want a book with no romance in it, read this one! With the over-saturation of love triangles, instalove and constantly putting having to fall in love and be paired up in YA novels, this one doesn’t focus on that. Instead, this is the story of how Joe and Hanalee come to understand each other and help one another to survive in their harsh world. At first, Hanalee is dead certain of Joe’s crime and he doesn’t want to trust her. But as their path gets darker, they do learn to trust each other as the awful truths come to light. This friendship is touching and powerful to watch as two people who don’t fit in find strength in each other.
3. Despite the terror, see the good in people: One thing that’s always sad to see in our world is that too many people focus on the terror, paranoia and hopelessness in the world. Yes, the world will never be perfect. But I like to see the good in people; the beauty in kindness keeps as a people going. The same goes with this novel. The moments when both Hanalee and the reader see the good in people are my favorite. Hanalee starts to see that people aren’t always as they appear; it’s the kindness and genuine humanity that keeps her search going. Being fueled by the love and alliances she does gain, she’s reminded that the truth must come out and that she can’t let hatred get to her. This made me want to do the same thing: see the good in imperfect people and use that to continue living the best life possible.
4. Supernatural Element: This book actually has less supernatural presence than Winter’s debut novel In the Shadow of Blackbirds, it’s still cool to experience. The retelling of Hamlet that’s implied is the ghost Hanalee encounters. While this ghost doesn’t have a major role to play as you think, there’s one moment where it comes together in a powerful and moving way. The ghost represents both unsolved injustice and the love of family. While I don’t necessarily think this is a Shakespeare retelling, this ghost impacted me in a great way.
5. Main Character Hanalee: This young girl earns a top spot as one of my favorite protagonists in a long time. Hanalee is a biracial girl living in Oregon and practically is the only girl of color in the town. She faces whispers at church about how she should bleach her skin, calling her names and not wanting to do much with her. She does have a couple friends that offer light in her life and her mother and stepfather add more depth to her character. She goes through so much in this story and her character arc really shows that. In the beginning, she’s blind by revenge and desperate for the truth she wants to hear. But slowly, she starts to willingly sacrifice herself to know the truth and help absolve Joe of what he got himself into. She faces down Klan members, a childhood friend she thought she loved and many other dangers her way. She doesn’t let anyone walk over her and never doubts herself as person of color. She embraces who she is in the face of adversity. She’s not focused on finding love or getting distracted by silly things like many YA protagonists. She is flawed but she shows the capacity to forgive, accept and love through she faces. Here’s a few passages that defined her character for me:
“Promise me, Joe. Swear we’ll both make it out of this ordeal alive. Let’s find out if there’s someplace out there that would treat us better.” (pg. 144)
“Stop threatening him, and don’t you dare bruise Fleur’s arms ever again.” I clasped the derringer firmly in my right hand and aimed the barrel towards his brown shoes, debating if I should raise it toward his head again. “Do you hear me, Laurence?” (pg. 262)
“No.” I folded my hands in my lap. “I won’t let them win.”
“Then what do you suppose we do?”
I sat up tall. “We survive.”
He looked at me from above his swollen nose, and I saw some fight burning in his eyes, too. “We’re still alive,” I said. “Still in one piece. Let’s stay that way. Let’s go make something of ourselves and show them how much we’re thriving.”
“…I fell asleep, thinking of wading in creek water and childhood nights when Daddy told me to love the world, even when it didn’t love me back.” (pg. 297)
I hope you guys will check out this book and enjoy it as much as me. There are good people in the world and there will always be good in the world, as Hanalee showed me in this novel. Cat Winters continues to bring us stories about strong people who use their heads and good hearts to change the world without more violence.
Have you read this book? Do you have a favorite Cat Winters novel? Have you read any books similar to this that you want to recommend?