I read a short blurb about a novel in Book Page several weeks ago. News of the World by Paulette Jiles sounded like something I'd enjoy reading. It was published in 2016 and had a few holds on it at our local library. I reserved it, then forgot about it.
Last week, the notice came from the library that the book was ready for me to pick up. By then, I'd forgotten what the story was about. When I claimed the book, it surprised me that it was of a smaller size than the usual and also just over 200 pages.
I started reading a few days later and found myself wanting to read longer than the time I'd allowed. The story grabbed me immediately and held me captive through the final page. The book is historical fiction with two well-drawn main characters and a cast of fine extras.
In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas reading parts of several newspapers to the town folk who pay coins to hear him. He is a widower, tired of war and waiting for two daughters to join him in Texas. He's offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a ten-year-old girl to her relatives near San Antonio.
The trip is over 400 miles, filled with dangerous areas to travel through, but worse is the thought of spending all that time with the child, who had lived with the Kiowa Indians four years, who had forgotten English, who wanted nothing but to return to her Kiowa family, they who had actually traded her for blankets and silver. The old man and girl travel by wagon with one horse pulling and another tied to the back. They have a handgun and a rifle, neither of which is in very good condition.
The story follows the Captain and Johanna as they travel south from the far northern part of Texas. It takes a long time to gain the child's trust. to teach her rudimentary English, to explain to others what he is doing. They stop in towns where the Captain rents space available and reads his news of the world to those who are interested. They meet enemies of one kind or another more than once but also kind people who help them.
The Captain regrets his decision to transport Johanna time and again but guilt and something he can't define push him on. Slowly, the old man and the little girl develop a relationship that grows deeper the farther south they travel. Even so, he cannot wait to deliver her and consider his job finished.
What the Captain discovers when he finally brings Johanna to her only surviving relatives angers him so much that he decides to take drastic action to right the situation.
Paulette Jiles has created characters that bring out many emotions in her readers. We learn to care about them. We cheer when they come out on top of a bad situation and we nearly cry when they have major difficulties. The book shows post-Civil War Texas. It gives us a glimpse into the little known occupation of being a newspaper reader. It lets us savor the developing relationship between an old man and a frightened, confused child. It's the old western story--good guys and bad guys--all over again.
Something bothered me as I read, but it was not the story. Instead, I noticed that there were no quote marks used in any of the dialogue. My writer's mind didn't like it and also wondered why it had been done that way. I did get accustomed to the style as I turned page after page, so it can't be called a huge problem.
I read this National Book Award finalist book over two evenings. I'm a fast reader, but it shouldn't take anyone very long to read this fine novel. I didn't want the story to end, and I must admit, I cried in the last couple of pages. Always the sign of a good book--at least for me.