Hattie’s Place by Katherine Stillerman is a touching historical fiction novel set in the early 1900s in South Carolina.
One week before her graduation from Greenville Female College, Hattie Robinson receives a disturbing letter from her fiancé Will Kendrick. In the letter, Will breaks off their engagement citing a mysterious complication.
Hattie is devastated. She decides to take a position as an elementary school teacher in Calhoun, South Carolina. She boards with a prominent attorney and his wife and their four sons.
In Calhoun, Hattie tries to rebuild her life and to make a new place for herself.
All too often, history overlooks or completely ignores the minor players. Women and children are lucky to be a footnote in some history textbooks. One of the appealing aspects of historical fiction is the inclusion of those who aren’t remembered for great achievements, but who are just as crucial to understanding the past. Everyday life is what most of us experience and this trend in history is expanding, especially in historical fiction. While the characters may not be real, dedicated authors take the time to research the time period and present wonderful glimpses into the past.
Hattie’s Place is a perfect example. Hattie is a young woman dealing with a broken heart. Right from the start, most readers will be able to relate to the main character. She’s strong, somewhat impulsive, has a big heart, and is educated. It’s easy to cheer for her, even when she’s making risky decisions that can easily blow up and quite possibly threaten her new position in Calhoun. Her impulsiveness is uncomfortable at times. And that’s a good thing. Readers love drama.
This story also deals with children, especially about their lack of rights. One of the young characters is yanked out of school and forced to work in a textile mill. During this time, thousands of children were robbed of their childhood and it’s admirable that this story highlights this travesty. And it’s a reminder that in some places in today’s world, this is still happening.
Stillerman is telling a story and yet she’s also raising important issues during Hattie’s time. She doesn’t get up on the soapbox and whack the reader over the head. Instead, the author subtlety inserts facts that will raise awareness. For instance, when Hattie reads over and signs her teaching contract, it’s made clear that she can’t be married and teach. And yet, the author introduces a male instructor who is married. Readers will gobble up these crumbs to form a pretty good idea of what life was like for women at the time. Presenting important aspects of the time period in unobtrusive ways helps the reader to connect with the characters, not just with the historical facts.
Hattie’s Place is a well-written novel that’s entertaining and insightful. History lovers will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look into family life while they get to know an amazing character, Hattie Robinson. Hattie’s story is inspirational and full of ups and downs keeping the reader on edge until the end.
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