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The Steep and Thorny Way

The Steep and Thorny Way

4.0 1
by Cat Winters

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A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.
1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by


A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.
1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.
The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

Editorial Reviews


" A powerful, gripping, and exceptionally well-executed glimpse into a little-known corner of U.S. history."
Justine Magazine

“History, mystery…for To Kill A Mockingbird fans.”
Horn Book Magazine

This is genre-pushing historical fiction that will surprise and enlighten readers.
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
With Hamlet as the template for the storyline, Winters has created an absorbing tale of prejudice and hope in Oregon in the 1920’s. She captures the reader from the first line of the story, as sixteen-year-old biracial Hanalee Denney, armed with her derringer, goes in search of the boy who killed her father. Eighteen-year-old Joe Adder proclaims his innocence and puts the blame on her stepfather, Dr. Koning, who treated her father after the car accident. Although Joe has served his time, he continues to hide. When Hannalee discovers Joe’s secret, that he is gay, she also learns that he may be subjected to the eugenics laws of the state. Tension continues to build as the mystery becomes more richly textured. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan, state laws against interracial marriage and homosexuality, and the 1917 law on eugenics converge and inform the reader. The storyline never falters. The characters are distinct and memorable. Hanalee’s first-person narrative allows the reader discover the many dark secrets of her hometown of Elston, Oregon, and to empathize as she uncovers them. Readers follow Hanalee from childhood innocence to the complexities of adulthood. Her strength of character, trust in the truth, wavering trust in people she thought she knew well, and hope for the future all play critical roles and lead to a satisfying ending. Period photographs are interspersed throughout the book. Each chapter heading is a quote from Hamlet, such as, “Murder Most Foul,” and “To Thine Own Self Be True.” Back matter includes post-1923 changes in Oregon state law and a lengthy note from the author explaining how this novel came about. With its parallels to prejudice and intolerance today, there is much to be discussed in plot, characters, setting, and topics. This is historical fiction at its finest. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo; Ages 14 up.
VOYA, April 2016 (Vol. 39, No. 1) - Jewel Davis
It is the 1920s in Elston, Oregon, where bootleggers abound and the Ku Klux Klan is on the rise. Hanalee Denney, a biracial teenager with a white mother and an African American father, lives in a small town divided by racism and prejudice. Hanalee’s father, Hank, died a year ago, after teenaged drunk driver Joe Adder struck him with a car. When Joe returns to town after a year in prison, he is confronted by Hanalee and denies killing Hank. Joe suspects that Clyde Koning, the town doctor and Hanalee’s new stepfather, poisoned Hank on the night of his death. Suspicious of Joe and Clyde, Hanalee, with the help of her father’s ghost, begins to unravel the secrets of the town. What both Hanalee and Joe do not realize is that uncovering the truth will put them both in harm’s way. With a nod to Hamlet, Winters crafts a suspenseful supernatural mystery grounded in the real issues of the prohibition era. With a twisting and revenge-driven plot, Winters creates a diverse cast of characters through which she explores the power of secrets and fear and the heartbreaking consequences of prejudice. Winters also addresses the discriminatory eugenics movement targeted at gay men and women in Oregon during the time. With the tie-in to Hamlet and historical photographs included to further illustrate the era’s issues, the novel would fit well into middle and junior high school curricula and libraries. Reviewer: Jewel Davis; Ages 11 to 15.
School Library Journal
★ 01/01/2016
Gr 8 Up—There's something rotten in 1920s Oregon in this Hamlet-inspired tale of a biracial girl seeking the truth about her African American father's death. When the drunk driver who killed her father is released, Hanalee starts to look more closely at her small town and the folks who live there. She uncovers prejudice, injustice, and serious crimes from some very unexpected sources. This is not humdrum historical fiction as usual. Hanalee is a fantastic lead, armed with a two-barreled pistol and led by the lost soul of her father. Her gumption is inspiring—nothing she is faced with is too scary to make her back down, but her stubbornness doesn't prevent her from evolving her point of view. Setting Hanalee in the backdrop of Prohibition-era Oregon, punched up with bootleggers, a hidden gay relationship, the public and private face of the Ku Klux Klan, and a dash of the supernatural makes for a delightfully unpredictable page-turner. VERDICT Unique and riveting historical fiction that feels anything but dated.—Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-12-08
A biracial teen seeks justice for her murdered father in Prohibition-era Oregon The daughter of a white woman and an African-American man whose marriage was not recognized by the law, 16-year-old Hanalee has few legal rights during the 1920s, an era of extreme intolerance exacerbated by the ever present specter of racial violence from the Ku Klux Klan. Hanalee's father, "the last full-blooded Negro in Elston, Oregon," was struck and killed by a drunk-driving teenager a year earlier. When the teen is released from prison, he tells Hanalee that the doctor who tended to her father the night of the accident is the real killer—the doctor who just happens to be Hanalee's new stepfather. With clear parallels to Hamlet, Hanalee struggles to uncover the truth about her father's death, hoping the truth will protect her and those she loves and put her father's wandering soul to rest. A fast-paced read with multiple twists, the novel delivers a history lesson wrapped inside a murder mystery and ghost story. Winters deftly captures the many injustices faced by marginalized people in the years following World War I as well as a glimmer of hope for the better America to come. A riveting story of survival, determination, love, and friendship. (Historical mystery. 14-18)

Product Details

Amulet Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.30(d)
880L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 Years

Meet the Author

Cat Winters is the author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, which received three starred reviews and was a finalist for YALSA’s Morris Award for debut YA fiction. She grew up near Disneyland in Southern California. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family. www.catwinters.com.

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The Steep and Thorny Way 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
book_junkee More than 1 year ago
Hamlet has always been one of my favorite plays, so I was quite eager to see what Cat was going to do with it. I loved Hanalee right from the start. She's smart and capable and really doesn't take crap from anyone. I loved that she was strong enough to stand up to do the right thing in such a hard situation. And I absolutely adored the scenes when she had her gun. I really enjoyed the twist on Hamlet. It was a unique take and didn't unfold exactly like I was expecting. There were a few things that happened that I didn't see coming and I was thrilled to get those surprises. The additional of the time period photos was a treat. And to read the book and know things like that actually took place had me shuddering. Overall, the story was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. **Huge thanks to Abrams for sending me the arc**