HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Author: Alexandria LaFaye
Cover Illustrator: Bill Farnsworth
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, reprinted 2006
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9 – 12
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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LaFaye, Alexandria. Worth (Published in 2004 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers and republished in 2006 by Aladdin Paperbacks, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, both divisions of Simon and Schuster Inc., 1230 Ave. of the Americas, New York City, NY 10020). Eleven year old Nathaniel James (Nate) Peale lives with his father Gabriel (Gabe) and mother Mary Eve on a Nebraska farm in the late nineteenth century. His little sister Missy had died a few years before. Nate’s life seems pretty good, and his help around the farm makes his father proud. But then Nate has a terrible accident which results in a crippled leg and makes it impossible for him to do farm work anymore, so his father obtains another boy named John Worth through the Orphan Train. Feeling replaced and useless, Nathaniel attends school for the first time but is embarrassed to be so far behind everyone else, especially in reading and ciphering, while sturdy and strong John is able to do the work that earns Pa’s attention.
However, the truth is that, while Nate struggles with feelings of jealousy, John has his own set of troubles. He feels that he is treated merely like a servant and is kept awake at night by nightmares of his entire family’s death by a fire back in New York City. He remembers having a pa who took pride in him, but now he seems to have no one. Meantime, a community battle is brewing between farmers and ranchers as someone is cutting fences to allow the ranchers’ cattle to destroy the farmers’ crops. Will Nate ever feel useful again? Can he and John find a chance for understanding between them? And who is responsible for the fence cutting? Booklist says that the “Narrative is brutally honest,” and that is true. Other reviewers noted that the way the family interacted with each other made them seem like not nice people. After the accident, the father didn’t even want to look at his son for a little while, and the mother is somewhat overly harsh with John, always seeming to wait for him to mess up.
Also, though this novel, which won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, may be geared toward the middle grade audience, parents should be aware that in addition to some common euphemisms (blast, darn), there is a small amount of bad language within the text. Nate’s father uses the “h” word, and Nate himself, who narrates the story, uses the “d” word. Rather than 8-12, I would recommend it for 12-16, as it might be a bit deep and confusing for the younger ones. In general, however, the story is not bad and gives the reader an accurate picture of the hardships of homesteading on the plains in the 1800s. Overall it has a good plot and a lot of suspense. Though demonstrating sorrow and even hatred, it depicts people who overcome the obstacles that life gives them and does have a happy enough ending as various characters all come together to help in each way they can.