Before I take a brief hiatus from the world of YA to finish reading the world’s longest grown-up book, I feel compelled to say things about ‘Crow Mountain’ by Lucy Inglis (Chicken House, September 2015). I bought this book for extremely shallow reasons: the cover is very beautiful and it was on the ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ in Waterstones. I am pleased to say, however, that the book is nowhere near as shallow as I am.
Making me very jealous at the outset, ‘Crow Mountain’ begins with Hope, who is 16 and accompanying her very strange mother on a working holiday to a ranch in Montana. Hope immediately meets a mysterious, attractive but clearly troubled boy called Cal and much predictable sexual tension and walking around in towels ensues. Hope’s story alternates chapters with that of Emily, travelling across the continent during the 19th century to marry a man she has never met. Emily’s journey is violently curtailed, resulting in her taking shelter with mysterious, attractive but clearly troubled Nate. Here, we also witness towels and sexual tension.
I’ve just made it all sound silly, haven’t I? I think if I’d known more about the book before making my rash purchases, I might have put it back; it’s a romance, which is not my thing, and the whole premise is a little overwrought. But reading ‘Crow Mountain’ was a hugely enjoyable experience. Montana is a place I have wanted to visit for a long time, and Inglis’ depiction of the area, both in 1867 and the present day, is detailed and evocative and made my wanderlust go into overdrive. The region is almost a character in itself, so richly is it rendered in both timeframes.
Emily’s story was the one to which I was most drawn. A foreigner (she’s English), alone and with no hope of rescue, having lived an unenviably sheltered life with her distant parents, Emily is unprepared for the wildness of Montana and Nate, as well as the tribe in which he was raised. Inglis’ narrative takes in the mistreatment of the Native American people, the Civil War and the rights of the 19th century woman without the story ever becoming dry; this historical aspect of the novel fascinated me and, later, Hope, as she discovers Emily’s diary and the lines that connect the two young women. I’ve read plenty of 19th century novels but a modern YA novel set in 19th century America is new for me and I relished the change.
No one had ever asked me what I wanted to wear before. My clothes were chosen for me by Mama and planned week in advance, more for special occasions. And now I stood wrapped in only a towel as a strange man offered me clothes I would expect to see on a London beggar. A man whose intentions weren’t clear at all.
The only real problem for me in reading this book was Meredith, Hope’s mother. She is almost a caricature of a feminist, getting annoyed when a man tries to carry her bags and dropping terms like “personal agency” as frequently as most people might talk about normal things like biscuits or ‘The Walking Dead.’ As a brilliant mother myself, I also thought she was just plain mean, and in an only marginally entertaining way. But her attitudes did make interesting comparisons with those of Emily’s parents in the other narrative, so maybe weird Meredith served her purpose.
The parallels between past and present are intriguing rather than far-fetched, as long as you suspend your disbelief a little bit (and if you can’t do that, perhaps novels aren’t for you). ‘Crow Mountain’ starts slowly but, by the end, accelerates at an astonishing pace to break your heart and severely stress you out – seriously, I had a few emotional moments towards the end which I was not prepared for when I gazed at the pretty horse on the cover in Waterstones. Inglis offers something different in the packed YA market and I really enjoyed the departure.