Overrated? THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah

When a novel is labelled overrated, this creates a temptation for me to read it. Books I have enjoyed have been called so in threads by other readers, books such as The Book Thief and The Couple Next Door.

I’m skeptical when a book is called overrated. What exactly does that mean? Does the person posting know of a similar book they enjoyed better? Are they listing novels people like and labelling them, simply to annoy?

Everyone has their own reading style, of course.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was the subject of many such discussions before it was released. I had an ARC, so I was going to read it anyway, but one of the forums had a thread titled “Reasons Why I’m Not Reading The Four Winds”–with hundreds of people commenting.

I am stubborn. This upset me. I decided to read the book without paying attention to the comments.

I’ve never read a book by this author, though I know she is famous. My first impression of The Four Winds was that the woman described on page one, the young lady who grew up finding friends in books, sounded like me. Plenty of readers can relate to Elsinore as a young girl in the introduction.

I can agree with some critics that the novel started slowly. If I wasn’t so determined to brush off the naysayers, I might have started reading a side book to fill in the gaps (it’s a bad habit I’m developing). I don’t want to feed this habit, so I turned the pages and became hooked on the story four chapters in.

The book is about hard times. Hard times–this phrase is invoked often in The Four Winds, and it means something different for everyone, character and reader alike. Some people during hard times lose the desire to fight, choosing to wilt away. Some lose their minds under the strain to survive. Then there are some, like the main character, Elsa, who become stronger when the going gets rough.

No one ever believed in Elsa. She suffered from the yellow fever as a child, and her mother feared the illness had made her weak for the rest of her life. This prevented her from doing anything that involved work, like playing with friends. She spent most of her time at home, reading books and sewing.

It wasn’t until her twenty-fifth year that she chose to be daring. She made herself a red dress, cut her hair into a bob, and climbed out the window. One night, she decided to be bad; that night would change the course of her life.

Ironically, this storm helped Elsa find herself. When her mother and father tossed her out as a consequence of her poor choices, she found herself living with the Martinelli family as a wife–and soon a mother.

We might call it the first blessing Elsa ever received–because with the Martinellis, she found strength. She had something to fight for. She learned that she was not as weak as her parents made her believe. No longer dragged by the wind, Elsa became a woman with the Martinellis.

Then came the Depression and the disaster of the Dust Bowl. Hard times became infernal.

When someone has already fought to become a stronger person, how much will it take for them to buckle under strain? The land that fed and maintained the Martinellis is dying, becoming sand under their feet.

Elsa packs her children into the car and leaves for California. It’s rumored that they will find relief in California–but rumors so often let us down.

The most powerful element in The Four Winds was Elsa’s relationship with her daughter, Loreda. At some point in her adolescence, Loreda started to behave like a teenager, embarrassed by her mother and blaming Mom for everything. The Four Winds made me cry, though, when this turbulent relationship was set to rest…at a great cost to Loreda.

This is one of the few books that did make me tear up.

Ignore the naysayers and read The Four Winds if you want a story packed with drama and a struggle to survive. There are proud moments; there are fearful moments. There are also moments in which you’ll be thankful that you weren’t alive during the Depression.

Survival and hard times look different for every generation. Read this book to find out how people waded through hard times, long ago–but so long ago.

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