Book Review: The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

steep thorny

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

There is a troubling undercurrent rumbling beneath the surface of the town of Elston, Oregon, and it’s particularly troubling for Hanalee Denney, a sixteen-year-old daughter of an African-American man and a white woman. Hanalee’s dad Hank was murdered last Christmas by a drunk driver, Joe Adler, and a few months later, Joe is out of jail and back in town. To add to the grief his return is causing Hanalee, the Ku Klux Klan is breeding fear and hatred across Elston in their attempt to “purify” Oregon of everyone who isn’t white, Protestant, American-born or heterosexual. Hanalee’s friends are abandoning her one by one, and her father’s alleged murderer is suddenly claiming that the man who actually killed Hanalee’s father is the town doctor who tried to save him and who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather. Does Hank Denney’s ghost, or a “haint” hold the answers Hanalee is so desperate to find? And will she be able to solve the mystery and to cope with the devastating results that she finds?

 

My readers probably know by now that I believe that it’s impossible for Cat Winters to ever write a bad book. “The Steep and Thorny Way” is definitely her best book to date – and the darkest. I’ve been known to spend hours in front of a Cat Winters book and finishing in a day. The same happened when I started “The Steep and Thorny Way” – thankfully, it was a weekend so I didn’t have to go to work. The novel is gripping. It’s devastating. And it’s honest and real. The emotions are very, very, real.

Winters’ fans know all about her talent to masterrfully convey the atmosphere of a setting in writing, and in “TSaTW” the reader can’t help but feel as though they are also a part of Elston, Oregon of the 1920s. Unfortunately, that setting has little beauty in it. It is very scary to think about the fact that the travesties described in the novel occurred less than a hundred years ago. Every page is saturated with despair and sadness of those times and thanks to Winters’ writing talent, the reader feels them as much as the characters. Hanalee, Joe and their  families are devastated by what is happening in their town, but they are the kinds of characters that don’t give up. Hanalee, for instance, is fully aware that there are few good things awaiting her in the future if she stays in Elston, but it doesn’t deter her from pursuing her dreams of becoming a lawyer. She is kind, smart and compassionate, despite all the atrocities American laws and Elston society put her through on a daily basis.

The novel is marketed as a retelling of “Hamlet” – one of my favourite works of Shakespeare. In a way, it is – you can see it in certain passages and characters. And of course, the murder most foul of the novel initially seems to parallel that of “Hamlet”. However, nothing is ever what it seems in Cat Winters’ books, and “TSaTW” is no exception. Given the setting, I knew that the solution to the mystery was not going to be a happy one – plus  “Hamlet” is a tragedy for a reason. It was, however, nothing I expected it would be and all the more devastating for it. Winters uses paranormal elements as plot devices quite a few times in her books, but they are only there to further highlight the devastation and the hatred that was a big part of those times. “The Steep and Thorny Way” uses these scary elements in a manner similar to “Hamlet”, but other than that, the fear we feel in this book comes from the villains that were very real. There is little need for additional fantasy elements – history provides us with enough source material for antagonists. Hanalee and Joe are in constant danger because of who they are – a biracial girl and a homosexual young man. Ku Klux Klan, eugenics and general prejudices not only prevent Hanalee and Joe from living carefree lives, but they make them constantly fear for their very lives. Things are somewhat better today than they were back then, but diseases like racism, xenophobia and homophobia are unfortunately still a very big part of our society. And this is why we need diverse books like “The Steep and Thorny Way” – to remind us that these disgusting things occurred not so long ago and that prejudice and discrimination are something to be fought on a daily basis.

“The Steep and Thorny Way” is emotional, gripping and absolutely amazing. I cannot wait for my next Cat Winters! My rating is 8.5/10. Once again, my only issue with Cat Winters’ books is the lack of sequels!

 

Favourite quotes:

“Hate is a powerful demon that worms its way into the hearts of fearful men”.

“I think love and wrong are two deeply unrelated words that should never be thrown into the same sentence together. Like dessert and broccoli.”

“Candlelight cast such a delicate beauty. It flickered with emotions and warmed one’s skin and soul”.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Steep and Thorny Way” if you liked:

“The Diviners” by Libba Bray

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare 

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

 

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