Review of The Steep and Thorny Way, by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way

by Cat Winters

Amulet Books, 2016. 335 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2016

The Steep and Thorny Way is a reimagining of Hamlet in 1920s Oregon.

Hanalee Denny has white mother and an African American father, so she’s not very welcome in their town, where it’s illegal even for her parents to be married. But her father died two years ago, hit by a teenage drunk driver, and her mother has remarried to the doctor who comforted her after her husband’s death.

Now Joe, the teen who hit her father, is out of jail for good behavior, but he’s hiding out, because some people are after him. But Hanalee talks to him. He tells her that her father only had a broken leg after being hit by the car, and the doctor who’s now her stepfather must have killed him. What’s more, Hanalee learns that her father’s ghost has been seen on the highway at the crossroads where he was hit. Perhaps she can talk to his spirit and find out what really happened.

Okay, so far I thought we were going to get a straight retelling of Hamlet, so I thought I knew what was going to happen. But there are many twists and turns in this story. Things get sinister when we learn that the Ku Klux Klan is active in their town. They’re recruiting young people, and even Hanalee’s childhood friend is turning against her. And they have reasons for wanting Joe out of the picture as well.

So you’ve got a mystery – how did her father actually die? You’ve also got peril unfolding as Hanalee tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. And there are plenty of historical details about Oregon in that time period.

Reading about someone who’s made to feel “other” is a good antidote to bigotry. I hope this book isn’t as timely as it seems.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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