by Charles Portis
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”
This might be one of my favorite books this year. Mattie is the definition of a bad-ass heroine. She is focused and does what needs to be done. She does not hem and haw. She will ask you for what she needs, and she will lean on you and negotiate with you until she gets it. She is unflinching, smart as a whip, straight-shooting and no nonsense. She has an incredibly refreshing voice, and there should be more characters like her.
I think the best part about her, though is that she has an incredibly open world view. She knows that her way of life is not the only way of life, and her talents and skills are not the only ones to be valued. She has her opinions, but she lets other people have their own, and that is their own business. There is an incredibly touching paragraph early on when Mattie describes her mother: "Mama was never any good at sums and she could hardly spell cat. I do not boast of my own gifts in that direction. Figures and letters are not everything. Like Martha I have always been agitated and troubled by the cares of the day but my mother had a serene and loving heart. She was like Mary and had chosen 'that good part.'"
The meat of the story, however, lies in her relationship to Rooster. While he is highly reluctant to take her to the Indian Territory, even so far as ditching her at the ferry (she fords the river and chases him), his affection for her grows as she takes him to task for his flexible morals and lax discipline. Her esteem for him grows as he tells her the story of his life, protects her, and is there for her when it matters most.
Portis writes with deliciously dry wit. He creates highly-complex characters, and then just lets them at each other. Each argument ping-pongs back and forth, and you often end up agreeing with whoever spoke last. His wild west world and the language of the time is straight-forward and yet often times Shakespearean (I found the phrase "something touching her father's death" and conversations about Ophelia that subtly hearkened back to Hamlet and his search for revenge. )
I may go out and buy this book and read more of Portis' work. Though technically an adult book, I think its great for YA folks too!