Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hardscrabble by Sandra Dallas

After reading In Cold Blood and The Hazel Wood, I needed something a little lighter! Enter Sandra Dallas' Hardscrabble, a children's novel about homesteading in 1910 Colorado.  Sandra is one of my favorite authors, and her new adult novel, The Patchwork Bride, is due out in early June.  I simply can't wait!

Here's what I love about Sandra Dallas.  She writes about pioneers, homesteaders, and folks who lived hard lives in the settling of the West and Mid-West. Her main characters are always women, and they're women you would love to know. Strong, loyal, hardworking women who just want the best life they can manage--often times, at the end of a long, rough road.  

Hardscrabble is no different, but it's softened for a younger audience. It centers on the Martin family, who travel to Mingo, Colorado after their farm fails in Iowa.  Belle, her mother and six siblings meet her father at the train station, and soon approach their new home: a sod house.  It's a long way from the beautiful farmhouse they left in Iowa, but they're starting over on a homestead. Neighbors include Lizzie, a single woman living on her own claim, determined to prove up and have her own farm. Two characters from Dallas' adult novel The Diary of Mattie Spencer also live nearby, and I was happy to see them all these years later, thriving and enjoying the rewards of their hard work.  

The novel moves through nearly a year on the homestead, and of course life is not easy, and filled with bad weather, threats to crops, and tragedy. It's nothing we haven't read about in other novels set in the homesteading years of the United States, but Dallas writes from Belle's viewpoint, and that makes it all simply told, with a bit of sass and humor thrown in-just as a young girl would be today.  Certainly fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder will eat this one up.  

This was a quick read, but a lovely, quiet one. It helped reset my internal reading clock a bit.  If I read too many dark themed novels in a row, I get bummed out.  While not everything is smooth sailing for the Martin family, the obvious love in the family, the cheerful attitudes, and the strong presence of Beck Martin, their father, help keep things moving along and light even in sad times. Lizzie's presence as a strong woman on her own, fixing wagons, planting crops, baking, and raising chickens is a bright spot, and a glimpse at the changing world in 1910.  She doesn't want to get married and have to give up her homestead before it's proven to be hers, and she can own it free and clear. 

All in all, a delightful, quick read on one of my favorite subjects: pioneering.  

Rating:  4/6 for a sweet story about the Martin family starting all over again in Mingo, Colorado in 1910. Good times and bad make this a novel about sticking together, working through problems, and loving each other. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 


  1. If you changed the names this could actually be a review for the Little House On The Prairie books. How is it different from them? (Genuinely interested, in case the question sounds otherwise 🙂 )

  2. They are very similar, for sure. Most pioneers went through the same good and bad times, since so much of their success depended on the weather for crop production. Sandra's novel is set in 1910, which is much later than the LHOP books. It's an interesting blend of two ways of life coming together: the pioneer sod house, horses, and hard living, and the beginning of big ranches in Colorado, cars, and more opportunities for women.