In the early 1860s, an orphaned Swedish girl comes of age in what becomes the Idaho Territory in this latest installment in the High Valley Home series.
The Larson family of Swedish immigrants first appeared in Dorris’ Sheepeater (2009, etc.), which focused on Erik Larson, a boy who was adopted by Indians. Here, Dorris turns to Erik’s sister, Katrine, who at 9 years old becomes separated from her family during their wagon-train trek west from Minnesota to the high valley north of Fort Boise. The kind Olafson family takes her in, however, and they treat her like a daughter. The immigrants face all the usual dangers and trials of breaking new ground with few supplies in a new country, but they slowly improve their rough lean-tos, sow crops, acquire livestock, set up schools of a kind for their children, and so on. Still, challenges and setbacks arise, including hailstorms, fires, mountain lions, and illness. But there are rewards, as well, including fertile ground, hot springs, and good neighbors. Katrine, meanwhile, grows up as a typical girl of her time and place, doing chores, going to school, playing with friends, and looking forward to special treats on such holidays as Midsummer’s Eve and St. Lucia’s Day. As she’s about to turn 15, Katrine stands on the brink of adulthood, engaged to marry. Still, the small community has some tragedies, as well. Overall, this is a well-researched account that vividly shows the daily hard work and special difficulties of life for pioneer settlers. The descriptions of handmade chairs, floors, and other items are entertaining, and the focus on Swedish culture and the Idaho setting enrich the story, taking it beyond what readers may already know from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous Little House books. However, excessive repetition slows the novel down and dulls its effectiveness; for example, readers are informed many times over that Katrine’s typical chores are getting water and gathering wood. The prose can also be overly melodramatic at times (“Katrine’s heart caught”; “Katrine felt her world going black”; “A numbing ache filled Katrine”).
A historical novel with vivid descriptions of its time and place but that would have benefited from some streamlining.