News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

news-of-the-worldCaptain Kidd was tired of all the wars he’d fought in his long life, so now he was traveling around Texas with a horse and wagon, reading the news in all the little towns. In 1870, people were happy to pay a dime to hear someone tell them what was happening in the wider world. Either they didn’t have access to newspapers, or they couldn’t read at all. While he was traveling, the captain kept up with old acquaintances, one of whom asked him to make a delivery. It seems that he had been tasked to return a 10-year-old girl to her family in San Antonio.

Johanna had been kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe when she was six years old, and now she remembered nothing but her Native American family. She could not speak English, which was not surprising, since her slaughtered parents spoke their native German, but Johanna could not remember that language, either. This feisty little girl had the thoughts, habits, and speech of a Kiowa tribe member.

The story of the journey this grizzled old man took to bring the wild child back to relatives who barely knew her might be expected to be dry and dusty. Their evolving understanding and relationship, though, is poignant and absorbing. They ride through confusion and danger, meeting wonderful and revolting frontier folk along the way. The end of the road holds encounters with the captain’s family and with Johanna’s resettled German relations, but neither the captain nor Johanna are the same individuals who set out from their homes.

If you had asked me to read a Western, I would have refused, but our adult fiction selector, Janet Lockhart, wrote a review of this slender volume that was featured on a huge marketing poster at BEA last May. She absolutely loved it, which is enough to make me read any book, and she was so right. This is a story that you can hand to your brother, mother, or anyone. Heartwarming, thrilling, and joyful, this is a book for us all.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, although it is now available to the public. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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