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hanalee The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters | Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5)

As a note, a printed galley of this novel was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.

Although Cat Winters has a steady flow of historical fiction under her belt, her newest release coming out this year, The Steep and Thorny Way is my first experience with her writing. And what a wonderful first dive it was! As a so-called retelling of the much beloved classic Hamlet, the story has a lot to live up and it did beautifully.

Electric, thoroughly mysterious and thrilling, The Steep and Thorny Way lives up to all you’d expect it to. Winters pens a tale that grips you from the first pages and refuses to let go. It’s a story about danger in historic time, prejudice that roots itself in a community and turns it sour. It’s a story of the friendship and the love and loyalty between family and friends.

In a time, the 1920s, where racial tensions are high and one mixed race girl is coming of age, one could expect a hitch or two in the way a story unfolds. There are many authors out there who could attempt such a tale but fail miserably in terms of accuracy. The Steep and Thorny Way is not one of those stories. Once it captures your attention, it keeps you in place and grips onto your soul with an inevitable twist.

So many stories fail to keep the stakes high and the tone true when it comes down to the way the novel is portrayed--but Cat Winters doesn’t allow this to happen in the least and provides us a vivid and historically accurate story that will tug on your heartstrings and give you all sorts of feelings. Tackling topics such as racism, sexism and homophobia, is not an easy task but Winters provides an honest outlook on these prejudices and bends them in the story tightly.

There’s a sad reality to it that will make your hearts beat in terror for the world that they lived in. Even in all the strides we’ve made in our modern world, there are still so many things from the past that parallel the world we live in today. It’s terrifying, it’s honest and because of this it will truly speak to its audience.

Because of this subject matter, it’s easy to become engulfed in the injustice our leads face–Hanalee Denney is the daughter of a white woman and a black man, who was killed prior to the start of our story.

She is everything a leading lady should be: complex, brave, thoughtful, strong, warm and determined.

From your first introduction to her, to her determination, to her heart and to her connections with various characters, her mother and her best friend in particular, you’re going to love her truly and completely.

Hanalee longs for a life different than her own; one where she won’t be faced with the horrible judgement based on the colour of her skin, one where she can bring her father to peace after he is seen not at rest even in his afterlife, one where she can fight and change the world as a lawyer.

And then there’s Joe Adder–a young man from a very religious background, who spent time in jail for the death of Hanalee’s beloved father. Joe is faced with prejudices of his own, first with the assumption that he was responsible for the death of Mr. Denney and then with his sexuality.

We see Joe through mostly Hanalee’s eyes, but we come to know him well and just as it is with Hanalee, we come to love him and hope for the best at the end of the day.

Both are extremely sympathetic and will speak to the audience in a way that a good friend would. As the two grow closer and a friendship starts to blossom, their lives are thrown in danger due to who they are–can they survive this potentially tragic end?

Can they leave behind the chains that come with the colour of her skin and those he desires? And who can they trust in a town that hides behind good morals and bad?

With the chilling presence of the KKK and all the tension arising in their hometown–the threat of lifelong friendships decaying, the danger of it all–it’s not an easy read. Your heart will break, your stomach will twist, and everything will come about in a way different than you’d imagine.

Overall, The Steep and Thorny Way is perhaps one of the best releases of the year.

It’s too soon to tell, but the complexities, revelations, secrets, honesty and the vivid historical atmosphere we’ve got set before us, it was a novel that was impossible to put down. Cat Winters has upped the game for all releases in young adult historical fiction for a while–she certainly came with her A game.

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