News of the World - Paulette Jiles
In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.
In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.
In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.
Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.
So I have to confess that I wanted to read this book because it's not my normal go-to read and I've been watching documentaries on Netflix during Penelope's nap time so I thought I'd be super into this. Also, it is just under 250 pages so I thought it would be a quick read for me, but I have discovered since my embolism in August, nothing is quick for me anymore. Also? I don't know if it's the writing, if I'm just not smart after all, or my reading comprehension skills are busted because I really struggled through this. I found myself re-reading sections and then it dawned on me, the punctuation in this book is way off. Normally I'd write it off as not a big deal because advanced copies sometimes haven't gone through their final edit and it's par for the course to spot errors. But this seems like a specific writing style because there are no breaks to allow for such punctuation, so it really makes it difficult to read passages where there is dialogue. So for that alone, that made me lose interest when I realized I wasn't going to enjoy this as a leisure read, I'm going to have to work for it.
With that said, the characters are pretty great. Our central character, Captain Kidd, is in his seventies and has been in three wars over the course of his life. He now goes from town to town reading the news from newspapers for a dime a head until one day he's basically given a young girl to take to a town over 400 miles away. He feels pretty confident, having raised daughters with his now deceased wife, so he agrees and off he sets. The problem, is that the girl was kidnapped by the Kiowa (Native Americans) when she was six (she's 10 now), she has forgotten the English language, and it's clear she doesn't want to be going to San Antonio (let alone with Captain Kidd) and she makes the journey pretty miserable because she won't just go easy into the night. But over their journey, the both of them forge a friendship since despite their age difference, have many similarities. Once they get to San Antonio though, Johanna doesn't really want to go with her long lost aunt and uncle (because her parents are dead so this is like a next-of-kin situation) and Captain Kidd doesn't really want to let her go because despite the headaches she's caused and her escape attempts, he's formed a bond with her.
Overall? It's a good book. It would actually be an interesting read for high school students as a lot of discussion on the mistrust of strangers and those of another culture could be discussed, as well as the morally complex ending. Captain Kidd struggles with leaving Johanna but can he (or should he) risk becoming a fugitive himself? And as mentioned at the beginning of the book, this is at a time where the 15th amendment was just ratified, giving all men (despite race) the right to vote, and one of the characters made a comment that he couldn't take the girl because she was white and he was black- they'd encounter all kinds of trouble and frankly, it would look badly on him. Which can maybe be drawn from current news, perhaps? I don't know. But the books lends itself to discussion for sure and with it being under 300 pages it's really ideal for a quick read.
You can purchase your own copy of News of the World on the Harper Collins website as well as on Amazon!