3 reviews

You Belong Here Now: A Novel
by Dianna Rostad

Published: 2021-04-06T00:0
Paperback : 368 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 3 members
“It’s so hard to believe that this is a debut novel! It’s an historic novel. Talk about hitting me on so many good points.” –John Busbee, The Culture Buzz, weekly on www.KFMG.org

“Set against the harsh backdrop of Montana, You Belong Here Now is a novel as straightforward ...

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“It’s so hard to believe that this is a debut novel! It’s an historic novel. Talk about hitting me on so many good points.” –John Busbee, The Culture Buzz, weekly on www.KFMG.org

“Set against the harsh backdrop of Montana, You Belong Here Now is a novel as straightforward and powerful as the characters who populate it. I love this book, and I guarantee you won’t find a finer debut work anywhere.” — William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of This Tender Land

“You Belong Here Now distills the essence of the American spirit in this uplifting story. Perfect for book clubs looking to discuss the true meaning of family.” — Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House

In this brilliant debut reminiscent of William Kent Krueger's This Tender Land and Lisa Wingate's Before We Were Yours, three orphans journey westward from New York City to the Big Sky Country of Montana, hoping for a better life where beautiful wild horses roam free.

Montana 1925: Three brave kids from New York board the orphan train headed west. An Irish boy who lost his whole family to Spanish flu, a tiny girl who won’t talk, and a volatile young man who desperately needs to escape Hell’s Kitchen. They are paraded on platforms across the Midwest to work-worn folks and journey countless miles, racing the sun westward. Before they reach the last rejection and stop, the kids come up with a daring plan, and they set off toward the Yellowstone River and grassy mountains where the wild horses roam.

Fate guides them toward the ranch of a family stricken by loss. Broken and unable to outrun their pasts in New York, the family must do the unthinkable in order to save them.

Nara, the daughter of a successful cattleman, has grown into a brusque spinster who refuses the kids on sight. She’s worked hard to gain her father’s respect and hopes to run their operation, but if the kids stay, she’ll be stuck in the kitchen.

Nara works them without mercy, hoping they’ll run off, but they buck up and show spirit, and though Nara will never be motherly, she begins to take to them. So, when Charles is jailed for freeing wild horses that were rounded up for slaughter, and an abusive mother from New York shows up to take the youngest, Nara does the unthinkable, risking everything she holds dear to change their lives forever.

“From the moment the reader steps on the train with these orphaned children, You Belong Here Now shows how beauty can emerge from even the darkest places.” —Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl

“Rostad’s bighearted debut is full of surprises, and warm with wisdom about what it means to be family.” —Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Train to London

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She drove the cart gently, while her eyes roamed the familiar folds of her family’s ranch. Sagebrush cleaved to the sandy soil and ponderosa pines huddled together in the chalky mountains that surrounded their vast range. Papa usually had a little something laid aside whenever anyone went belly-up, and over the years he’d built up quite a reputation as the largest stock operation in the county. You couldn’t see from one end to the other on the Stewart Ranch.

But even so, it wouldn’t take Nara long to find the mustangs. Like every creature, they had their own daily rituals and rhythms. At sunrise, birds skimmed for fish in the deep, rippling currents of the creek. When the sun blazed overhead, creatures of every kind, feathered, furry, and slithering, escaped to rocky nooks, scaly branches, and grassy patches of shade. By afternoon, she might hear the clopping of a bighorn ram as it tottered over the tops of the hills on its way to the Yellowstone River where it would take a cool drink. The cattle spent their afternoon beneath the pine trees and then walked for the troughs as the sun tilted west. From the porch after supper, she could see pointy ears roaming the western hills. By dark, those wolves would be howling out their morbid song, celebrating a meal. Her aching body in bed, the screech of an owl would pierce the brisk night air, calling out for its mate to the starry sky. As a child she had tried to stay awake long enough so she could go to the hills and wait for the mythical creature called the sidehill gouger to emerge in the dead of night with his lopsided legs, making those distinctive tracks on the sides of the hills as he chased down errant children who dared to rove the hills alone.

But the wild horses roamed free and never stayed in one place too long, except one. The mustangs gathered in a shallow valley after sunset. When her cart could take her no closer, she got down and released the foal onto shivering fetlocks. The will to live must beat fiercely in every heart, for that filly ran across the field with all its might, stumbling just once. The band saw the foal coming and encircled it, snuffling it over to see if it belonged to them. Nara watched them for a while, and they watched her right back, ears pricked. One by one, they dipped their muzzles to the sweet buffalo grass, yanking and tearing at the earth, demanding their place on it.

She headed back home, her bumping cart jarring her butt good. The last of the light slipped away, and a dark blanket settled over the mountains. The wind had grown bold, breathing cold air through her jacket as if she wore nothing but her skin. She walked through the yard, ready for supper, but Jim, their only ranch hand, waved her over.

Most of the Cheyenne in Yellowstone County wore their hair in two long braids with an old-fashioned hat, but Jim wore close-cropped hair, a Stetson, dungarees, and long-sleeve shirts with a collar like every other cowpuncher. He held out a metal trap, its sharp teeth smeared in blood, and then dropped it in the dirt with a thunk. “Found another trap. Lamed a calf. I had to shoot it.”

Nara shook her head. “I wonder how many he laid before I fired him.”

“No telling.”

“I’m sorry Papa hired that idiot over your head. If I have anything to say about it, it won’t happen again.”

His hair shone in the starlight and his chest filled with air as he contemplated her words. “Our fathers are still angry. Another generation will bleed it out.”

Her father had grown up during the Battle of the Little Bighorn when Custer and his men had been slaughtered. But Custer had been hunting down Jim’s people, trailing them as they moved their encampments with women and children. The animosity of that skirmish remained in the soil, angry blood of the fallen, bubbling up from time to time.

Jim pulled a rumpled pack of cigarettes out of the chest pocket of his shirt, shook one out, and offered it to Nara. Her trembling finger took the white roll, and he watched as she put it between her lips. He fiddled around in his pocket and brought out a shiny metal lighter. His flicking thumb produced a flame that lit up his face and filled the air with the flammable smell of butane. His eyes were so dark she couldn’t see inside him, but if she dared look too long, they’d flare up like that lighter, torrid and flustering. She puffed her cigarette to life and turned away. He lit his own cigarette, and they stood in the darkness of their own discrete worlds, connected by smoke and dust whipped up by the relentless north wind.

*** view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think the wild horses represent or symbolize in the book?
2. Charles protects Patrick from racist slurs at school by filling Billy’s mouth with dirt and holding it closed. If Charles were your son, how would you handle correcting him while acknowledging his courage to stand up to a bully?
3. The ranch hand who pulled up Opal’s dress was viciously beaten by Charles. Neither went to jail. Is it okay to use violence as a form of punishment, protection, or justice?
4. Do you think Papa should have taken a stand against the people who slurred Patrick rather than encouraging him to hide his Irish lilt?
5. When Patrick prayed and made the sign of the cross against his chest, how different were the reactions of Mama and Papa Stewart to his Catholicism? Were they substantially different?
6. Charles and Patrick go about things very differently and have unlike dispositions. Why do you think this is? How does it inform the way they see and treat animals? Their horses?
7. Nara’s actions towards the kids are unmaternal at best. How does it contrast with her behavior toward the little horse caught on the fence? Did you think she’d ever make a good mother to the three orphans?
8. Nara tells her father that she wants Jim their Cheyenne ranch hand to be foreman. Papa says, “Ain’t nobody gonna listen to an Injun.” Was his reply racist or just representative of 1925 and the reality of that time?
9. Should Nara have been braver and admitted that she liked Jim romantically? Did Nara’s unwillingness to admit that she was interested in Jim, make you believe she was prejudiced?
10. Mama Stewart usually has something to say about everything, so when she noticed Nara’s interest in Jim, why do you think Mama Stewart didn’t say anything—even to Nara?
11. Jim clearly tries to fit into the world beyond the reservation by how he dresses and cuts his hair, but ultimately, did it do him any good? If you were Jim, would you have gone back to the reservation?
12. If it’s the only way to raise livestock, do you think it’s okay to round up wild mustangs and use them for chicken feed to preserve forage for human food production? What would you rather see happen?
13. Were the children of this day and time better left in orphanages and asylums in New York or sent out on the train to the farms and ranches? Overall, do you think the orphan train is a better adoption program/foster care system than we have today? How would you compare them?
14. Should Opal’s mother have been allowed to take her back after Opal ran away numerous times? If that happened today, what would the response be from our social services do you think? The Stewarts fake Opal’s death and hide her from her mother. Was it the right thing to do for Opal? What would you have done?
15. Ivar is clearly under financial duress yet refuses to accept monetary reparation for the mustangs Patrick sets free. Why? How do you think this staunch individualism manifests in our culture and politics today?
16. Do you think Mama Stewart was happy in her marital/family role? How does Nara’s attitude about womens’ roles play into her mother’s happiness in the story?
17. Charles was jailed for freeing the wild horses, though Patrick committed the crime. Would you have freed the mustangs? Do you feel it was a crime?
18. How does Nara’s attitude towards right and wrong differ from Charles’s? How do these two views converge in the book?
19. The State Trooper disobeyed a bench order and left without exhuming Opal’s body. Was justice served when the trooper refused to enforce the judge’s order? By what measurement or process can we effect justice in our world?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Grace D. (see profile) 02/20/23

  "A heartbreaking bit of history"by Gail R. (see profile) 03/22/22

You Belong Here Now, Dianna Rostad, author; Courtney Patterson, narrator
The year is 1925 and a train is carrying orphans from New York to Montana, making several stops on the way. At each
... (read more)

  "The Harshness of the 1920’s"by liz p. (see profile) 01/22/22

Three young children are alone with no family. The orphans are placed on a train in New York bound for Montana. They hope to be adopted along the way. Unfortunately for the children there i... (read more)

  "A very touching book"by Elizabeth P. (see profile) 09/08/21

Only three children left on an orphan train heading west.

We know we aren’t going to get picked. What should we do?

What they do is jump from the train.

Charles, Patrick, and O

... (read more)

by Kim R. S. (see profile) 08/24/21

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