Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Ruth Franchere’s Willa: The Story of Willa Cather’s Growing Up presents a vivid sketch of the life of a young girl whose explorations of life around her defied the conventional limitations of her day. The narrative begins with Cather’s arrival in Nebraska at the age of nine. Then, in fifteen chapters, Franchere leads her readers through the excitement of Cather’s discoveries of the new country to which she has moved; the narrative concludes as she begins her college education.

The book opens with a glimpse of the curiosity, compassion, and determination of young Cather, allowing readers to become acquainted with her personality. Throughout the book, Franchere describes Willa’s discoveries of the prairies, sod houses, and wide rivers of the Nebraska territory of the late nineteenth century. The first chapter depicts the Cather family stepping down from the train that has brought them to the Nebraska settlement of Willa’s paternal grandfather.

Although Willa was tired and worn from the long, dusty train trip, she was more concerned about the condition of an old dog lying on the platform than she was with climbing into the wagon waiting to take them to their new home. Willa met her first new friend, Annie, the dog’s owner, when Willa helped her get the dog up and moving. Annie was a new immigrant from Bohemia who spoke no English, but the two girls learned that a smile could serve as a common language. A lifelong friendship was formed.

After the first winter, spent...

(The entire section is 622 words.)