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Book Review: Stand tall "In Her Boots"

If a book cover has a boot on it, there is without a doubt that I will read it. So here I am with bestselling author K.J. Dell’Antonia’s novel “In Her Boots” because I can’t resist a good cowboy boot.

After a long-term relationship ends, her 40th birthday, and the death of her beloved grandmother, Rhett Gallagher, returns from her adventurous lifestyle to salvage her family’s farm. Under the Modern Pioneer Girl pseudonym, Rhett has accumulated a mass following on Instagram about her adventures and life lessons along the way. When a moment of panic strikes before an interview, Rhett begs her best friend Jasmine to step into the limelight and be the face of the Modern Pioneer Girl.

But when Rhett’s estranged mother comes knocking at her door to sell the family farm, Rhett and Jasmine devise a plan to save the farm and prove she is capable to her mother, all while the two friends keep up the ruse of their fake author plan.

Rhett’s characterization leaps off the page–her inner conflict with her self-esteem wasn’t gimmicky or whiny but profoundly nuanced and complex (although she’s 20 years older than me). Her growth throughout the book is occasionally frustrating but satisfying by the conflict and end, which brought a few unshed tears to my eyes.

The pacing of “In Her Boots” is slow, mainly streams of Rhett’s consciousness and skirting away from the central conflict. Although the novel’s first half sets up the subsequent events of the story, the slow pacing made it nearly impossible to get through and could have been cut down to hold the reader’s attention.

Yet, the pacing of “In Her Boots” wasn’t the most pressing issue for me–the real problem was Dell’Antonia’s choice to use the word “pioneer.” You might be questioning, “How is that word an issue?” Although it has become part of the common language, the term “pioneer” holds a racist and colonialism past that reverberates today. To further explain my issue, here is a personal anecdote:

I attend the University of Denver, a small private college known for its strong academics and stellar hockey team. The university’s unofficial mascot is the Pioneer, a male figure with a Davy Crocket-style raccoon hat named Boone. Pioneers from the 1800s were not the hard-working trailblazers American history, and literature has taught us. Pioneers were partially responsible (along with the U.S. government) for the genocide of Native Americans, the decimation of their food sources, assimilation, discrimination, oppression, and outright theft of land rights across the country.

Protests from DU students and Native American individuals called for the mascot to be replaced due to its inherently racist past–especially given the school is built on Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal lands. For a university that prides itself on acknowledging and making amends with its Native American community, DU is reluctant to replace Boone (for various reasons, mainly the alumni association and their financial contributions).

The mascot debate is still hotly contested within DU’s classrooms, and although “pioneer” might not be as racist as other monikers, the term still holds a terrible past and should not be lauded.

This is why I had such an issue with Dell’Antonia’s word choice. There are numerous other nouns she could have employed, but calling Rhett a “Modern Pioneer Girl” deeply unsettled me. Co-opting a term for a fictional, white woman to profit off and encourage readers to follow Rhett’s sage advice isn’t a feminist flex and lacks critical intersectionality. This white-washing and glorification of the “pioneer lifestyle” isn’t new. Still, it is concerning not a single editor thought to change it and practice cultural competency to their readership instead of perpetuating racist and colonialist concepts.

Despite this, I mostly enjoyed the novel. An inspiring, heartfelt story of healing a mother/daughter relationship, “In Her Boots” was a delightful read to uplift readers.

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