Editor's note: "Opulence, Kansas" is a finalist in the Young Adult book category of the 2021 High Plains Book Awards.
Julie Stielstra’s “Opulence, Kansas,” a finalist in the High Plains Book Awards Young Adult category, tells the coming-of-age story of Katie Myrdal, a privileged adolescent girl from Chicago. Shortly after her father is found murdered, Katie seeks sanctuary from the ensuing chaos by joining her aunt and uncle in the Kansas farming community of Opulence. During her summer there, she makes new friends, finds a new sense of self (and some unexpected romance), and discovers some shocking secrets about her father’s past. These secrets are what may have led to his tragic and untimely demise. In her novel, Stielstra delivers elements such as innocent romance, suspenseful mystery, self-discovery, humility, and the importance of family and community. All of these elements are packaged neatly into a well-written story with an approachable narrative style suitable for teens and adults alike.
The way Stielstra describes the Opulence atmosphere through Katie’s eyes (and the sense of awakening she would go on to experience during that defining summer) might make one wish they could pack a bag and run away there themselves: “It was like people out here knew how to live with space between them. In the city, there are so many people all in the same place that you storm along and grab your own space before anyone else can take it and act like there’s no one else there. And then, when you’re with people you do know, it’s all hugs and air kisses and oversharing about your diet and other people’s marriages and the state of your bowels, for all I know. Out here, there was plenty of space for everybody, so you were actually glad to see each other as it happened, and chat and have a friendly word, and then leave spaces for breathing. I was a total stranger, but that was okay.” (33-34).
Julie Stielstra hails from Michigan originally and hopped all over the Midwest before settling down in Kansas. In addition to “Opulence, Kansas,” she has written the novella, “Pilgrim,” as well as various short stories.
Montana native Lena Sleight has been stacking books at Billings Public Library since 2017 and reading for the High Plains Book Awards since 2016.