Orphaned at age eighteen, Chicagoan Esther Chambers has no place to go. There’s nothing tying her to her childhood home but memories of her mother—no family, no work, few friends. The only relative she is aware of is Ferris Pickett, a distant cousin who lives on the Oregon frontier. Pick welcomes Esther with open arms, but there’s a catch—she must lay claim to a parcel of land that adjoins Pick’s cattle ranch and settle it. Esther’s claim is on a small lake, and in the tiny frontier community, water is almost as valuable as gold.
Esther moves to Century at a pivotal time in the community’s history. There’s the possibility that the railroad will come through the town, which would lead to a boom—and money to be made. Cattle ranchers are battling with sheep ranchers, and the escalating tensions are leading to violent outbursts from both sides. What starts as petty vandalism quickly turns to cruelty and murder, and Esther finds herself questioning her place in this hardscrabble community.
Little Century is a thoroughly modern Western that cuts through the typical “romance of the West” clichés and presents frontier life as it was—tough, bitter, and brutal. Esther is a fascinating character, open to new experiences and eager to escape her sheltered urban life and accept the challenges of frontier living. Her search for home and family leads her to unexpected friendships, relationships, and adventures. Part coming-of-age story, part history lesson, Little Century is a fine debut from a promising voice in American fiction.