Spunky, independent, determined 14-year-old Mattie vows to revenge the death of her father, Frank Ross, when he is killed in cold blood by his ranch hand, a man she knows by the name of Tom Chaney. She is determined to not only hunt Chaney down, but to bring him back to Fort Smith in Arkansas where, in her opinion, he can be properly tried and hung.
"Although today’s teens seem to be caught up in a technologically-driven world, I think they can still enjoy reading about Mattie Ross and her adventures. Mattie might be just a character from an old western, but she’s certainly not your typical Wild West character, especially for a teenaged female."
Mattie lives near Dardanelle, Arkansas, which is about 70 miles “as the crow flies” (so Mattie tells us), but she must go to Fort Smith to claim her father’s body. She goes by herself, not only with the intention of seeing to her father’s remains, but also with the intention of finding someone who can help her carry out her mission. She doesn’t tell anyone else what she is going to do so they can’t do anything to try to stop her. Instead of taking her father’s body back home with her like she’s supposed to, she pays to have him shipped by train.
While in Fort Smith, Mattie looks for someone to hire to help her carry out her mission. She asks for the meanest Federal Marshall around, someone with “true grit,” and is sent to talk to Rooster Cogburn, a man who has a colorful past. Cogburn agrees to track down Chaney for $100, one-fourth of which Mattie pays him up front. Cogburn does not want Mattie to tag along, but she insists and simply refuses to stay behind. Mattie and Rooster are also accompanied by a Texas Ranger by the name of LeBeouf who shows up in town and insists on coming along. The two men have a contentious relationship but they eventually manage to get the job done.
The story is written about a time when the West was still wild. The trio venture into Indian Territory, where danger lurks around every corner. It’s not a place for a young girl to be, but Mattie proves up to the task. She is strong, intelligent witty and wise beyond her years in some ways but very naïve in others. The author, Charles Portis, weaves much humor between the lines of this Western adventure,
This book was written in 1968 and is considered a classic. A film by the same name, starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn was made in 1969. It was an immediate hit. A remake, starring Jeff Bridges at Rooster, was released in 2010.
Although today’s teens seem to be caught up in a technologically-driven world, I think they can still enjoy reading about Mattie Ross and her adventures. Mattie might be just a character from an old western, but she’s certainly not your typical Wild West character, especially for a teenaged female. The story includes enough colorful characters, both female and male, to satisfy readers of both sexes. The questions included at the end of the book can be used by the individual reader to help them delve deeper into the story, or they can be used during a group discussion to generate dialogue between different readers with different perspectives.
Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on November 15, 2012
- Publication Date: November 21, 2012
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Overlook Juvenile
- ISBN-10: 146830125X
- ISBN-13: 9781468301250