Dear Hank Williams
by Kimberly Willis Holt
Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt and Company BFYR)
April 14th, 2015 — Happy Book Birthday! *Throws confetti*
ARC, 214 pages
Source: I received this book from the publisher through Shelf Awareness in exchange for review consideration. This in no way affects my review; all opinions are my own. Thank you, Henry Holt and Company!
It’s 1948 in Rippling Creek, Louisiana, and Tate P. Ellerbee’s new teacher has just given her class an assignment–learning the art of letter-writing. Luckily, Tate has the perfect pen pal in mind: Hank Williams, a country music singer whose star has just begun to rise. Tate and her great-aunt and -uncle listen to him on the radio every Saturday night, and Tate just knows that she and Hank are kindred spirits.
Told entirely through Tate’s hopeful letters, this beautifully drawn novel from National Book Award-winning author Kimberly Willis Holt gradually unfolds a story of family love, overcoming tragedy, and an insightful girl learning to find her voice.
Dear Hank Williams is a lovely little romp set in 1948 Louisiana. Tate P. Ellerbee’s teacher has her entire class write to a pen pal. For their assignment, some children pick family members they don’t see often, while others are brave enough to correspond with Japanese children, despite the remaining tension between the two nations a few years after World War II has ended. Tate, however, chooses to write to a young up-and-coming country music star she listens to on the radio: Hank Williams. And thus, we have our book.
Tate writes about her life to Hank, telling him about her family: her Aunt Patty Cake, Uncle Jolly, mother Jordie June, and brother Frog, and what they’re all up to every day. I won’t give away anything, but I’ll say I was mighty surprised when it became clear Tate was an unreliable narrator. I haven’t read many books like this, where things are spun and spun until you’re told it was all just a lie, and I was definitely not expecting it here. But I understood why Tate made things up, even though I felt confused at first when things didn’t make any sense, and a teensy bit betrayed. But I easily forgave Tate, and applauded author Kimberly Willis Holt for shaking things up in this very unexpected way.
Dear Hank Williams is a very sweet, light read. It’s got funny bits, happy bits, sad bits, and even more sorts of bits. (Like a dog BFF! Canine besties are awesome and always win points from me.) I didn’t race through it like I thought I would, due to its laidback pacing. This middle grade novel is a character-driven story, rather than a plot-based one. I loved all the characters, though, and loved hearing all about them through Tate’s personable and quirky letters. She never receives anything but autographed photographs back from her pen pal, but I was always thinking that whoever was reading her letters, either Hank himself or his assistant or someone else in charge of “fanmail”, was a very lucky person indeed. ♦
So tell me…
Have you read Dear Hank Williams? If you haven’t, would you be interested to? What was the last epistolary novel you read? And what are your thoughts on unreliable narrators? Comment below letting me know! And, as always, happy reading!