When I was between eleven and fourteen years old, there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from in terms of books for and about young adults. I consumed the entire Sweet Valley High series (I know, gross and gag me with a spoon, in the parlance of those times), anything by Judy Blume (which would cause me to turn crimson at points and make me wonder if I was really supposed to be reading about that stuff), The Babysitter’s Club series, and every single book by L. M. Montgomery and Madeleine L’Engle (many thanks to my grandma on both counts).
Arguably since the birth of the Harry Potter series, young adults have enjoyed far broader and richer options in which to spend the leisurely days of summer reading. To start off my summer, I did my own speed-reading through all of Ooligan Press’s young adult titles over the last couple of weeks and was very impressed, and perhaps a tad jealous. I wish I had been exposed to such finely crafted, socially/culturally relevant, and simply engaging stories when I was younger. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to have encountered them at all, for all they’ve taught me about various eras and Pacific Northwest places and people.
Ooligan Press has six young adult titles under its publishing belt, and they are all truly awesome books. I tend to be attracted to female protagonists who find themselves in a life-altering and challenging situation that is beyond their control—especially when the story takes place before the industrial age. Hence, I adored reading A Heart for Any Fate.
As a young woman, I would have deeply identified with the thoughts, trials, and heartbreak that Lovisa King encountered on her journey to Oregon. The plot moves quickly, and I really did have a hard time tearing myself away from finding out what would happen next to Lovisa and her family and community. In addition to an engaging plot line, there are complex matters of romantic love, faith, and death interspersed throughout the book that were deftly and carefully handled by the author. Despite the very real horrors of famine and disease (or getting lost in what truly was the middle of nowhere), Crew deals with very frightening scenarios delicately, and clearly she considered her younger audience.
As an adult, I was very entertained by the story and impressed by the thoughtful attention to detail that went into every aspect of recreating this world of 150 years ago. I can see why it has been used in school curriculums, as it is a vivid testimony to the immensity of westward expansion on the part of thousands of average people. The reader gets a clear and intimate view of how truly incredible this journey was. When I learned about the Oregon Trail as a child, it was often through romantic images like Little House on the Prairie—but A Heart for Any Fate is a much more realistic and full portrayal of early pioneers that would inspire younger and older readers alike to find out more about the Oregon Trail and Pacific Northwest history.
I wholeheartedly recommend spending some gorgeous summer days next to the river or ocean with this book or any of the six Ooligan Press YA titles—whether you’re going into middle school or teaching it. All of them are page turners that offer rich and realistic young adult characters of great complexity and resilience within their time and place.