You Belong Here Now: A Novel
Three orphans from New York have travelled to Montana, unselected by any family at the stopping points along the way. Charles says he is sixteen; Patrick is Irish and therefore faces prejudice; Opal is three, adorable but far too young to be useful on a ranch.
It is spring 1925, and Montana is a land of ranches and small towns, welcoming automobiles but still remembering Custer and the Indian Wars. Men work the ranches and women belong in the kitchen, except for Nara Stewart, unmarried and as tough as any man. She seems like the last person to extend a hand to three orphans, but circumstances and her sense of fairness and justice intervene.
The three orphans bring both help and danger to Nara and her family. Charles is strong enough to provide much-needed help on the ranch, Patrick is a natural with the horses, and wee Opal brings great pleasure to Nara’s mother. But they also bring danger: Charles is too ready to fight viciously; Patrick is too soft-hearted; Opal’s abusive mother shows up to take her away. The sheriff arrives, bringing the full weight of the law down on Nara’s family.
The author maintains a high level of tension throughout as the three orphans face challenges for which city life has not prepared them. They bring with them behaviours that create problems for those who would help them. All of this is presented vividly and with unsentimental empathy. The ranchland itself is portrayed in all its dimensions – its harshness, its cruelty, its beauty. The people, both ranch families and city orphans, carry the action and tension through their reactions to each other and the land. This novel is deeply felt and beautifully portrayed.