10 year old girl and 71 yr old man on an Western adventure.
News of the World has been circling the “Best of” lists ever since it’s release and thus my book club has been chomping at the bit to dive into it.
News of the World tells the tale of Captain Kidd, an ex newspaper man whose business has folded, his wife has passed away and his children are grown and living their own lives. He supports himself by traveling from town to town and reading the News of the World out loud to those in towns that do not have much literacy. While visiting a town for a reading, he is approached by an freed slave and friend named Britt, who asks him to take on his job of escorting a wild 10 year old girl back to her family. At the age of 6 Johanna’s family was killed and she was taken by members of the Kiowa tribe. She had lived with them for 4 years until her aunt and uncle paid in order to have her found and returned home. Though she is captured, Johanna has no real connection to her past and does not want to go. With the promise of a $50 payment however, Kidd is convinced he can get her there and the two set off on a 400 mile adventures.
This book pretty much moves like you’d expect it to. The two are initially complete opposites, separated by both an age gap and a language barrier, but they eventually learn how to communicate with one another and gain trust. The star power in this book is the character of Captain Kidd, who is very flawed but still likeable and admirable. He believes he is doing the right thing while still letting Johanna stay true to herself often, and their growing relationship is one of the driving forces of the book. It’s very character centered while having a strong sense of place. I was able to visualize most of the scenes in the book, and imagined Captain Kidd to be a lot like Sam Elliot. Turns out Tom Hanks will be playing Captain Kidd in the movie adaptation, because Tom Hanks is the epitome of likeable older man now. And that’s fine.
This book is not without fault however. Many people I know who have read this would give it 5 stars and, while I enjoyed it well enough, I didn’t think it was the end all be all of books published last year.
One of the things I REALLY struggled with is the formatting of this entire book. The author chooses to not use quotation marks for dialogue, likely to even the playing field between Kidd’s inner monologue and the fact that Johanna can speak minimal English, but wow was it distracting. I found it incredibly difficult for my brain to compartmentalize what was inner thought, what was dialogue, and who was speaking on occasion. Jiles also loooooves long, detailed sentences that are great for establishing setting and character, but for me there were far too many long paragraphs with minimal punctuation. I rarely have to read passages more than once, but with this book I found myself constantly rereading sections in order to figure out from where the dialogue was stemming.
The only other issue I had with the book involved women’s roles and white men passing women on to other white men, but that’s basically a trope of the Western genre at this point so I’m not sure how much clout it has in the argument for this book. Regardless, aspects of the ending bothered me, but not enough to write the book off entirely.
If you’re interested in a Western or character driven adventure story, this is a great place to start. The novel clocks in around 200 words, and it’s an easy afternoon read.
Title: News of the World
Author: Paulette Jiles
Three Descriptors: Strong Sense of Place, Lyrical, Character-Centered
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