Written for young adolescent readers, Willa is an engaging and entertaining introduction to one of the primary contributors to American pioneer literature. Cather went on to obtain a degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska; eventually, she provided the public with many stories and novels based on her own life in Nebraska, including O Pioneers! (1913), My Ántonia (1918), and A Lost Lady (1923). Although her characters were fictional, they had backgrounds in the real townspeople and farmers, many of them first-generation immigrants, that Cather had known on the Nebraska prairie. The central figure in My Ántonia, for example, Ántonia herself, was based on Annie Sadilek, the young Bohemian girl that Franchere depicts Cather meeting on her first day in Red Cloud, the tiny Nebraska town to which the Cathers moved from Virginia.
The land and the people of nineteenth century Nebraska are nicely drawn by Franchere, but she also clearly shows Cather’s determination and her unwillingness to be bound by convention, even at a young age. In fact, determination could be Cather’s middle name. When a friend of hers was allowed to take piano lessons, Cather was determined that she, too, could conquer this instrument. Because her family did not have the income to provide piano lessons, Willa would conveniently place herself at her friend’s house at the time of the appointed lessons. After several months of...
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