Sixteen-year-old, Hanalee Denney, is angry when she learns that Joe is out of prison and back in her hometown of Elston, Oregon. Eighteen-year-old Joe, a preacher’s son, was convicted of killing Hanalee’s father while driving drunk a year and a half prior. When Hanalee consents to meet with Joe, he has surprising news for her. He claims that her father’s only injury from the accident had been a broken leg, and he had not been in any danger until he was under the care of the town doctor, who is also Hanalee’s new stepfather.
Hanalee begins investigating the local rumor that her father is a ghost wandering the roads he traveled on the night of his death and she also begins to investigate her new stepfather to see if he might be a murderer and a member of the local Klan. Hanalee soon learns the Klan definitely had something to do with the events of her father’s last night. As the daughter of a white mother and black father, Hanalee is no stranger to racism. While she mostly felt accepted in her small town, there were always the little old ladies in church who would ask her mother if she had ever considered bleaching Hanalee’s skin. However, the Klan’s deeply rooted hatred and fear of the unknown is new to her, and she learns that she may be their next victim.
I’ve been excited to read The Steep and Thorny Way ever since I heard about this YA retelling of Hamlet. I read and enjoyed Cat Winter’s previous book, The Cure for Dreaming (review here), but I loved this one. It definitely went in a different direction than I thought it would, but that was a good thing. I don’t always like when a ghost is part of an otherwise earthly story, but it worked here, and the ghost of Hank Denney was one of my favorite characters.
Winter’s research is very detailed and very frightening. The 1920’s Oregon she portrays is a volatile place with bootleggers, Klansmen, homophobia, and the threat of eugenics. Given that our own time is so volatile with frequent mass shootings, open racism in the population and in Presidential candidates, this book was certainly published at an appropriate time. I loved the characters, a likable band of misfits; the lonely wild setting; and the ending.
Now to read Winter’s debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds.