Author: Cat WintersSeries: Standalone
Released: March 8th 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Length: 335 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Scene: Oregon, 1923.Dramatis personae:Hanalee Denney, daughter of a white woman and an African American manHank Denney, her father—a ghostGreta Koning, Hanalee’s motherClyde Koning, doctor who treated Hank Denney the night he died, now Hanalee’s stepfatherJoe Adder, teenage boy convicted of accidentally killing Hank DenneyMembers of the Ku Klux KlanTownspeople of Elston, OregonQuestion: Was Hank Denney’s death an accident…or was it murder most foul?
Cat Winters’ books are always such things of beauty, and The Steep and Thorny Way is no exception. The quality of her prose and the depth of her research can only be compared to Ruta Sepetys, at least as far as historical YA goes.
Inspired heavily by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way is a strong enough book to stand entirely on its own and avoid any predictability. While she does use Hamlet’s themes in what could be considered a retelling (the death of protagonist’s father, potential murderer married to mother, plans of revenge), Winters doesn’t rely too heavily on them and constantly adds her own little twists.
The Ku Klux Klan was strong in Oregon at that time and Hanalee would undoubtedly have been a target. Racial injustice was far stronger in these rural environments than in places like Washington. The Klan was semi-public, seemingly an anti-Christian organization, but really anti everything that wasn’t white and male. Like with her previous books, Winters found a way to shed light on a historical subject, but also to connect problems of that time with issues we still struggle with today. Racism isn’t the only thing our Hanalee struggles with. As a biracial young woman with ambitions, she dreams about becoming a lawyer and marrying whomever she chooses, which seems to be out of her reach.
Through the preacher’s son, a young man accused of Hank’s murder, Winters also sheds light on LGBT issues of that time. Joe was possibly the only person who suffered more injustice than Hanalee, at least once he was discovered kissing a boy in his father’s car. Although his problems aren’t anything new, seeing him through Hanalee’s eyes certainly was. Her initial disgust was rooted in ignorance, and her change of views that came after talking to him and really thinking about him was wonderful.
It could be said that Winters tried to do just a bit too much this time. She is known for adding paranormal elements to her work, and a retelling of Hamlet certainly requires a restless ghost or two, but I sometimes felt that it could have been a stronger book without it. With the Ku Klux Klan and the LGBT themes so strong, there was enough going on even without the paranormal mystery. Nevertheless, a copy of this book needs to be in every house and read by every teenager. There is so much to learn through a connection with these characters.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.