Captain Jefferson Kidd travels the west, reading the news from around the world to the small hamlets scattered across the yet-untamed land. At one stop, he is asked to return a young girl who the Kiowa held captive for years after killing her family. Johanna has almost no memory of her previous life, including how to speak English, but she soon comes to trust Kidd. The two become an unlikely team as they face threats on their journey.
I loved Kidd and Johanna, their journey, and how their relationship unfolded. Kidd’s newsreading events that drew entire towns felt both foreign and charmingly innocent in contrast with today’s information overload. This was a read from my shelf for my 2020 reading challenge and it was my first five-star novel this year.
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It is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence. In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows. Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forging a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land. Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself. Exquisitely rendered and morally complex, News of the World is a brilliant work of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.