by Jessie Haas, William Morrow & Co. Greenwillow

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In a novel set in 1910 Vermont, thirteen-year-old Harriet has lived contentedly alone with her mother, but their life together is shattered when her mother is killed in a horse and buggy accident. The mare has to be shot, leaving both Harry and the mare's two-year-old colt orphans. Harry is horrified to learn that, according to her mother's will, she is to be…  See more details below


In a novel set in 1910 Vermont, thirteen-year-old Harriet has lived contentedly alone with her mother, but their life together is shattered when her mother is killed in a horse and buggy accident. The mare has to be shot, leaving both Harry and the mare's two-year-old colt orphans. Harry is horrified to learn that, according to her mother's will, she is to be sent to live with her father's sister, Aunt Sarah, on her scrappy hill farm outside of town. While life with her mother revolved around Harry's education, Aunt Sarah expects Harry to stay home and help out on the farm. Her only chance of returning to the Academy in the fall is to break in the colt so that she can ride the seven miles into town. Just as the colt resists Harry's attempts to train him, Harry quarrels with Aunt Sarah, who "only wanted to be the boss." Harry also refuses to listen to Aunt Sarah's insinuations of her mother's character, but Harry's lack of knowledge about her parents' wedding date causes "the doubt to bite inward." When the colt drags her in a training session, giving her severe rope burns, Aunt Sarah leaps into action, driving her to the doctor. Only then does Harry see beyond her anger to realize that Aunt Sarah does care for her, in her own aloof way. The quiet novel moves quickly and is enriched by genuine dialogue, realistic portrayals of grief, and careful observations in the first-person narrative. Sensory descriptions of the hills-"row on row of them, like ocean waves," where "morning mist still lingered, rising like whipped cream out of a bowl"-and of tasks such as butter churning and hay cutting give a strong sense of the Green Mountain setting and turn-of-the-century time.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
Faithful to life's struggles and richly populated with flinty characters, Unbroken is a wise and satisfying novel.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Haas's (Fire! My Parents' Story) exquisitely crafted prose is the driving force in this heartfelt story of family ties, as the author traces the emotional journey of an adolescent girl in rural Vermont at the turn of the century. The novel opens as Harriet Gibson--better known as Harry--is informed at school that her mother has had a tragic accident; she dies soon after Harry arrives at home. "I used to feel a strong line from Mother's heart to mine whenever I saw her, and love moved along it like a telegraph signal. Now the line was cut," notes the grieving Harry. Her mother's will states that Harry is to live with her father's sister--stern, disapproving Aunt Sarah. Haas convincingly evokes the rigors and beauties of farm life, the pettiness of small towns and the sometimes hopeless tangle of blood relationships that can as easily wound as they can comfort and heal. As Harry struggles to break her colt--also orphaned in the accident--so that she can ride to town and continue her education, she also struggles to tame her grief and to hold her ground against her aunt, whose stubborn, outspoken nature mirrors Harry's own. It's not until another accident occurs, seriously injuring Harry, that the two begin to approach a measure of mutual understanding. Haas has a gift for description and graceful simile ("Night after night I lay still and narrow, like a wrinkle in the blanket"), and her characters are sharply observed, especially honest and wise 13-year-old Harry who can coax compassion from even her frozen Aunt Sarah. Ages 10-up. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Christopher Moning
The year is 1910 and life in the Vermont hills is changing rapidly. But no one's world changes as much as Harriet's does on the day her mother's horse is spooked by a Model T. Orphaned, Harry is sent to live with her Aunt Sarah and Uncle Clayton. Aunt Sarah has had her own share of heartache-her meanness shows it. Aunt Sarah doesn't value education as Harry's mother had; if Harry is to continue with school she must train her wild colt, which was orphaned in the same accident that claimed Harry's mother. Harry's journey through grief is skillfully detailed without being syrupy or sentimental. The characters, drawn to perfection, show many shades of human goodness and frailty. The author's thorough research is evident in the numerous period details and scenic descriptions. When Harriet is injured while attempting to train the colt, she comes to a realization about her relatives-and about herself.
To quote from KLIATT's review of the hardcover edition: This gentle historical novel takes place in the early part of the 20th century in a rural American community. Harriet is in school when she receives the devastating news that her mother has been in an accident, and she rushes to her mother's deathbed. Since Harriet is an only child and her father died when she was a toddler, she is now alone in the world except for some kindly neighbors and a few relatives she barely knows. Her mother had arranged that Harriet was to be raised by Aunt Sarah on a nearby farm, even though Sarah has a reputation for being a cold, judgmental woman. Because Harriet's mother was warm, loving, and always a good companion, Harriet's grief is overwhelming, especially since she gets little support from her Aunt Sarah. The story is about Harriet's months of adjusting to her new life, her grief, and her new relatives. She has little from her past life, but she does take along an unbroken Morgan colt, about two years old. Harriet's plan is to break in the colt so that she can ride him into town each day and thus continue her schooling. Concentrating on the farm chores and working with the young horse are part of what leads to her healing. The characters are wonderfully real, even Aunt Sarah, who grows in wisdom about as much as Harriet does in these months together. Haas is a skilled writer and her descriptions, dialogue, and slow development of plot are perfectly matched to the world Harriet lives in. The horse connection should draw in middle school readers who like horse stories, but frankly, the story is much more about a young girl's difficult adjustment to a new life than about her relationship withher horse. (Editor's Note: The audiobook of this title is also reviewed in this issue.) KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 1999, HarperTrophy/Greenwillow, 202p, 20cm, 98-10485, $5.95. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Harriet copes with her mother's death and her unyielding aunt while training the unruly colt that remains a symbol of her old life. A nurturing story of healing, filled with raw emotion and crystal-clear imagery. (Apr.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-When her mother dies in an accident involving a horse and a Model T car, 13-year-old Harriet's life changes irrevocably. Left orphaned and grieving, she must move away from her friends and school to live with her stern and critical Aunt Sarah and her complacent Uncle Clayton on their farm. Living with them, Harriet is told some painful things about her family that make her all the more desperate to return to school and the way of life she has always known. To do so, she must train her stubborn colt so that she will have the means to get back and forth to town. In her impatience to tame the creature, Harriet seriously injures both of her hands. The accident forces her to realize that she has been too harsh with the colt and makes Sarah recognize that her treatment of Harriet has also been severe. Aunt and niece are then able to approach their relationship with a new appreciation and understanding of one another. Haas's memorable characters are well drawn and her descriptions of farm life in the early part of the century palpable. This is an emotionally rich and powerful tale of love, reconciliation, and healing.-Christy Norris Blanchette, Valley Cottage Library, NY
Emily Arnold McCully
...[The book] reverberates with universal meaning....[T]ackles themes of family responsibility, independence, mastery, work and courage....Faithful to life's strugglews and richly peopled with flinty characters, Unbroken is a wise and satisfying novel.
The New York Times Book Review
Andrea Wilk
Unbroken weaves together many interesting many interesting themes—the experiences of grief and mourning, connections to family versus those to friends, and struggles related to belonging and identity...Unbroken is a compelling novel, even for a reader with no special interest in horses. That element of the story will be one more enticement for those who love the animals.
Riverbank Review
Kirkus Reviews
A heartfelt but awkwardly paced novel of an orphan finding her way in 1910 Vermont. Harriet, 13, loses her mother when their horse shies from an automobile. Still barely comprehending her loss, she must also leave the house she and her mother shared to go live with her dead father Walter's gruff sister. Sarah has had a hard life, and it shows, as she teaches Harry how to churn, gather hay, and find eggs, with little patience for her niece's longing for school, or for the colt she loves, foal of the mare who died when her mother did. Sarah hated Harry's mother, too, implying that pregnancy forced her beloved Walter into marriage. Harry doesn't know the family story, but visits to the cemetery and the stories of another uncle help her piece together her past and offer her insight into Sarah's brittleness. The emotional transitions are abrupt; the story predictably comes out all right when Harry's school tuition gets paid, and when she and Sarah recognize their ties in blood and feeling. Readers will be comforted by the cozy denouement, and by Haas's evocative descriptions of Vermont in the early years of this century. (Fiction. 9-14) .

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.33(w) x 9.33(h) x 1.27(d)
640L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 Years

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Read an Excerpt

Our pencils scratched steadily. Every head was bowed, but we watched Miss Spencer and Reverend Astley from under our hands or hair.

He spoke close to her ear, and the welcoming smile went stiff on her face, then vanished as she glanced our way.Behind me Luke drew a faint hissing breath.Trouble for someone.

I wondered for whom, watched my hand scrolling out an elegant line of script across the page, so regular and well formed that I barely recognized it for my own, glanced out the high window, through which the sun streamed--

"Harriet Gibson."

My pencil clattered on the floor.Miss Spencer;s face, full of compassion, was turned toward me. My heart squeezed.

"Bring your things, dear," she said.

Luke's breath hissed again, and I felt her fingers touch my back.With numb hands I scrambled my books and papers into a pile and rose with them in my arms.Billy Booth gave me the pencil, with a sympathetic grimace. Then I was up the aisle, being ushered out of the room by Reverend Astley, and the thick oak door shut behind us.

"I won't keep you in suspense," he said, turning to face me the moment we were alone."Your mother has been injured in an accident, and you must come home at once."

He took the books.He hand on my upper arm hurried me along the corridor as the clock struck the half hour. Nine-thirty in the morning --

"Is she --"

"Her condition is serious, but the doctors are hopeful."

He opened the door for me.At the bottom of the stairs his buggy waited.He handed me up, climbed in himself, and turned the roan horse.

"What--what's wrong with her?What happened?"

Reverend Astley seemed to hesitate for a moment."I don't know the details," he said finally."An automobilewas involved, and the horse took fright.Your mother was on her way back from bringing you to school, I understand."

A lump began to grow in my throat.We were late this morning.I'd jumped down over the wheel and ran up the Academy steps without glancing back.Just "Bye!" over my shoulder, and the sound of Belle's hooves as Mother turned her.

Oh, please let her be alright. Please

Barrett village blurred past, and we were out on the road, climbing between fields and pastures towards West Barrett.


"Don't look," the reverend said suddenly. "Close your eyes!"

Too late.There ahead of us was the buggy, shattered like a shot crow: broken shafts, broken axle, splintered top.It looked to fragile ever to have carried the two of us.

Farther along the sun gleamed on a motionless sorrel mound. Belle. I saw her white foot curled up toward her belly, as if ready for one last kick.The roan horse pricked his ears, and his steady trot faultered, but Reverend Astley touched him with the whip, and he clopped on.

Copyright ) 1999 by Jessie Haas

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Meet the Author

Jessie Haas is the author of numerous acclaimed books for young people, including Unbroken, which was a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a School Library Journal Best Book, a Parent's Choice Gold Award winner, a Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, and CCBC Choice. Her most recent novel, Shaper, won a Golden Kite Honor Award.

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