As I sat down to read Adele Dueck’s latest book for young people, I admit I was skeptical. I don’t normally read books in the YA genre, nor do I read historical fiction. But as a native Montanan, I thought I might be able to connect to the rural setting of this story. I was right.
Dueck’s award-winning fourth novel, "Racing Home," is a finalist for the High Plains Book Awards in the category of Best Woman Writer. It is the story of a young boy, Erik, who with his family immigrates from Norway to Canada, by way of Minnesota. Set just after the turn of the last century, in 1908, the book takes the reader on a journey back to days when life was simpler and times were hard. Erik is just 13, with a younger sister, his mom and his new stepfather, Rolf. We learn, too, that Rolf has a son he hasn’t seen in 10 years. Olaf is still angry with Rolf for what he calls “giving him away.”
Though in the end Olaf and Rolf essentially forgive and forget, I wanted more from their exchange. We never find out, for example, why Rolf gave his son up or where Olaf’s mother is, nor do we see them talk about it in any sort of meaningful way. I think this was a missed opportunity for Dueck to illustrate that parents can make mistakes and work on repairing relationships, too.
"Racing Home" is well-paced and engaging. Dueck has such skill in weaving in interesting bits of intrigue throughout the book that I read it in one sitting. It is full of interesting historical and cultural references to the Norwegian heritage of Erik and his family as well as the other settlers in the area. There were also Norwegian words used in the dialogue, like “manga takk” or “many thanks.” Most words were defined or given enough context to be understood, though it would have been fun to see a pronunciation guide and glossary in the back of the book, especially since it is written for a young audience.
One of the things I found most interesting about this novel is its portrayal of the struggle of an immigrant population at the turn of the previous century. We see into the daily lives of people working to learn the new language they need to communicate in business and society. From Erik’s point of view, we also see the concern about whether immigrant families fit in. He is, for instance, constantly insecure about his parents’ ownership of oxen instead of horses. Wisely, Dueck doesn’t really engage with the matter overtly but instead lets us see Erik learning his own lessons about what is important.
Overall, "Racing Home" is an engaging, entertaining, well-written novel any child will enjoy. It is recommended for third- to sixth-grade readers, but Dad and Mom won’t be disappointed if they decide to read it aloud to their younger children!
Amelia M. McDanel is an MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles. She is a veteran and has called Montana home most of her life.