Shanny on Her Own by Lael Littke
originally published 1985
Archway, 2nd printing, 1988
Genre: Young adult
Synopsis & Review: Fifteen-year-old Shanny has been sent to stay in rural Idaho with her great-aunt Adabelle for six weeks of her summer, ostensibly to help Aunt Adabelle prepare for her move off her ranch and into a nursing home, but also to keep Shanny out of trouble after the Great Dog Food Caper. As her mother puts it, Shanny is “finding herself,” which means she looks nothing like her peers in Wolf Creek, Idaho, from her purple-dyed rat tail haircut to her go-go boots. And Shanny is fine with that, sure that the local yokels have nothing to offer. That is, until she meets Thor. Thor has Sex Appeal, and lots of it, and he’s a sweetheart to boot. Dazed by Thor’s looks and charm, Shanny becomes involved with Wolf Creek’s Pioneer Days road show project, a one night musical program. She also befriends Bucky, Thor’s little brother, who is devoted to Shanny and Aunt Aunt Adabelle’s old bronco, Blastoff.
Though some people look at her funny, most people in Wolf Creek seem willing to like and accept Shanny—until she puts her foot in her mouth. And then she has to worry about Aunt Aunt Adabelle, who talks to dead Uncle Vic sometimes. And then there’s the beautiful and perfect Twyla, who clings to Thor, unobtrusively but nicely driving off all competition. But Shanny sticks it out, trying to do right and make amends when necessary, and along the way keeps a careful record of what she’s learning.
On our many camping trips in the West and Canada, I would always put my book down and observe when as we drove through some tiny town in Eastern Oregon or the Idaho Panhandle. I was fascinated by the small communities, often placed in the middle of enormous landscapes, and enjoyed imagining myself a member of one, knowing the same people through elementary school and as adults, sharing a history. The longest I spent in any one house as a child was five years, and even then I attended two different elementary schools. I envied the apparent simplicity of more permanent situations, particularly in their apparent epitome, the tiny rural town. (To be honest, I still fantasize about moving to one.) Even ghost towns, particularly the profoundly sad dying towns, filled me with such envy. Lael Littke’s Wolf Creek is one such town, and one of the charms Shanny on Her Own has held for me throughout the years.
I like Wolf Creek. I like its inhabitants and its traditions, and I like Shanny’s being there. I want to live on a ranch and have chickens (though I don’t think I really want to clean a henhouse), and I want to participate in Pioneer Days and know everything about all my neighbors. And it’s that fascination and fantasy that enlivens Shanny on Her Own.
Apart from my predilections, Shanny on Her Own is a fairly standard YA fish out of water scenario, a city mouse visiting country cousins and learning some of their values, and in turn bestowing some of her own virtues upon them, such as a fresh perspective. It is perfectly adequate and unremarkable in that regard. However, it is worth noting that SoHO also represents the subgenre of Christian YA, more specifically the LDS. I must admit, I never noticed this subtle undercurrent until this most recent reading, in which I suddenly realized that Wolf Creek (and neighboring Pratt) were Mormon towns. Close proximity to Utah, check … church members are referred to as “Brother” and “Sister,” check … “gosh” is preferred over “god,” check … and many other tiny details added up. I was stunned. I was raised in a religious vacuum, only attending my first church service two weeks ago for my brother-in-law’s father’s memorial. And as someone with no particular beliefs, I can be highly sensitive to any perceived proselytizing, especially in my fiction. The fact that the religious undercurrent in SoHO completely escaped my notice for nigh on two decades pleases me; it allows a reader to take as much out of that aspect of Shanny’s experience as they like while not alienating those who are unfamiliar with that particular religion. This is a good thing.
An innocuous, but appealing little novel. Recommended mostly for younger YA readers, and acceptable for those looking for Christian-friendly YA fiction. I had no idea there was a sequel, but I really want to read it now.
Read also: Princess Ashley by Richard Peck
Cover: Shanny seated on porch steps with an adorable Thor leaning against the post, and Twyla lurking behind the screendoor. I like the subtext in the placement of each character. Also, these are some attractive young people, without looking Barbie-ish. I need to scan a better picture.
It was hard for me to think of my mom as a girl like me. Well, in the first place she never was a girl like me. I mean, my mom is the kind who inspires confidence. She’s an investment counselor, and people ask her for advice–even pay for it. Nobody has ever asked me for advice, except Flame, who asked once if she should wear purple eyeshadow or green with her new silver Liberace cloak that we found in our favorite thrift shop.