A novel with a 14 year old girl protagonist can usually be classed as a “coming of age” story. Not in this case. Mattie Ross, the 14 year old protagonist in this book, is the only mature person in the story. All the adults in the story need to grow up.
I’ve not seen the two movies that have been made of this book. I should probably see the movies before I offer any criticism of them, but it’s hard to imagine how the movies could match the character development contained in the book. The book gives two personalities to Mattie Ross. One is the 14 year old living circa 1880 (during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes); the other is the 50 year old Mattie who is recounting the story circa 1916 (during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson). The older Mattie occasionally inserts her editorial comments within this adventure story that lends an element of authentic memoir writing. Of course it’s a novel not a memoir which is a testament to the skill of the author.
One comment that I thought was a hoot was a plug for Presbyterian style of predestination that was so incongruent with the current story being told that it seemed only an older woman set in her ways could have wanted to insert the comment. It showed the sort of personality on the part of the older narrator that one would expect the younger and spunky Mattie to have grown into.
This is a very well written book built on a simple plot. The charm in the book is the miscellaneous detail, strange characters, dated speech patterns, and understated action and adventure. The book deserves five stars, but I can’t bring myself to give five stars to a book that was made into a John Wayne movie.