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The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig

2010/05/03

Thirteen year old Paul Milliron is the narrator of this charming novel set in the “Wild West,” nineteenth century Montana. Paul’s father, a widower with three young and mischievous sons, is desperate to find a housekeeper for his unconventional family, and ends up placing a newspaper ad, which is answered by a woman named Rose Llewellyn, who claims that she “can’t cook, but doesn’t bite.” She arrives, young and brilliant (but can’t cook), with her brother Morris in tow. The boys quickly take to both Rose and Morris, and when the town schoolteacher elopes, Morris is somehow elected to become the new schoolteacher. Paul, an excellent student who is rarely challenged in the classroom, is both delighted and nervous when Morris turns out to be a treasure trove of eclectic information, which he sets out to share with the conservative community of Marias Coulee.

This is a wonderful, non-traditional look at the old west. Paul is an observant and descriptive narrator; he picks up on things going on within his family, as well as factors at play between fellow students and others in the community. Paul’s description of a fellow student, a bully at school but a cowering, dead-end trapper when confronted with his father, is particularly heart-wrenching. Though the ending is rather cliched, it is still overall an excellent work of historical fiction. Those who look back at “Little House” books as their favourites will definitely enjoy this one.

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