cover image One Big Open Sky

One Big Open Sky

Lesa Cline-Ransome. Holiday House, $18.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8234-5016-9

Three generations of Black women—young Lettie, her mother, and teacher Philomena—take turns narrating a challenging westward journey in this gripping historical verse novel, set in 1879. After learning about land that they can own and operate in Nebraska, Lettie’s stubborn but ambitious father urges the family to leave Mississippi; he believes that migrating west and living as homesteaders will provide them with better economic prospects. Traveling in small communities known as companies, Lettie and nine other families journey westward; during their expedition they traverse turbulent rivers and encounter infectious disease all while being mindful of their dwindling finances. Lettie’s pregnant mother tries to maintain morale among her children, but the relentless travel conditions begin to take a toll on her. Along the way, they meet Philomena, who offers herself—and her meager but needed capital—to Lettie’s family as a helping hand in exchange for safe passage west. Though the alternating perspectives are occasionally repetitive, through them Cline-Ransome (Being Clem) depicts a harrowing tale. The novel’s slow-burn pacing and the meticulously layered intersections of each protagonist’s experience deftly captures the lengths to which Black people—particularly women—would go in pursuit of freedom in the post-Reconstruction era. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)