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The Steep & Thorny Way

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Scene: Oregon, 1923.

Dramatis personae:

Hanalee Denney, daughter of a white woman and an African American man

Hank Denney, her father—a ghost

Greta Koning, Hanalee’s mother

Clyde Koning, doctor who treated Hank Denney the night he died, now Hanalee’s stepfather

Joe Adder, teenage boy convicted of accidentally killing Hank Denney

Members of the Ku Klux Klan

Townspeople of Elston, Oregon

Question: Was Hank Denney’s death an accident…or was it murder most foul?

352 pages, Hardcover

First published March 8, 2016

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About the author

Cat Winters

8 books1,529 followers
Cat Winters is a critically acclaimed, award-winning author of five novels for teens: IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, THE STEEP AND THORNY WAY, ODD & TRUE, and THE RAVEN'S TALE. She has been named a Morris Award finalist, a Bram Stoker Award nominee, and an Oregon Spirit Book Award winner, and her young adult novels have appeared on Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best-of-the-year lists, as well as numerous state lists. She is also the author of two novels for adults, THE UNINVITED and YESTERNIGHT, and she contributed to the young adult horror anthology SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS. Her debut picture book, CUT!: HOW LOTTE REINIGER AND A PAIR OF SCISSORS REVOLUTIONIZED ANIMATION, written as C.E. Winters, will release from Greenwillow Books in Winter 2023.

Winters lives in Oregon. Visit her online at www.catwinters.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 395 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,921 reviews290k followers
March 12, 2016
“Poisonous rivulets of hate and fear spread beneath the town’s sidewalks and buildings and strangled the beauty that had once bloomed through Elston.”

Another great book from Ms Winters. Though this isn't quite my favourite Cat Winters' novel, I'm delighted to see that she's finally getting some much-deserved praise from critics. Using a lot of research, with a particular focus on social injustices, Winters has now delivered four fantastic historical/paranormal novels.

As with her other novels, The Steep and Thorny Way is an historical ghost story, set during the first quarter of the twentieth century. However, this is a very different kind of story, as we find ourselves in a 1920s Oregon terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan. Turning her focus from women's rights and sexism onto that of racism and homophobia, we are taken into a world tainted by hatred and misunderstanding.

The author is remarkably consistent in her ability to portray strong and complex female relationships. This book is not a romance. Instead, it is about family, friendship and loyalty. It's also about the sad reality that many childhood friends could turn into enemies for African-Americans, under the KKK's influence.

The protagonist and narrator is Hanalee Denney, a daughter of a white woman and a deceased black man. Her father's killer has just been released from prison, but he's telling a very different story to the one Hanalee has been led to believe. So her only option is to contact her father's ghost and uncover the terrible truth.

The book never shies away from portraying ugly historical realities, from the miscegenation laws that established African-Americans as an "other", to the everyday suggestions Hanalee receives about hair-straightening and skin-bleaching. For a modern reader, it is nauseating, and yet I appreciate it more than a rose-tinted version of history.

We watch this story unfold through Hanalee's eyes, relating to this normal young woman who longs to be a lawyer and feeling her sense of frustration and entrapment as her dreams are laughed at. The author has a knack for creating realism out of the fantastical and I really felt it here. Both with the social injustice, but also with the fear - it was truly frightening to be taken inside this world, even more so because it is not entirely fictional.

All the way through, I got a bit of a Boardwalk Empire vibe from this book - the atmosphere, the complex characters, etc. - so it wasn't surprising when the author commented on the show's influence in the afterword. I could definitely see it.

I still think it's a bit of a stretch to call this a Hamlet retelling, though, but I suppose "retelling" is the marketing buzzword these days. And I'm good with that if more people will read it because Winters really is a great author. Highly recommended.

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Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,519 reviews33.8k followers
March 24, 2016
I really liked Cat Winters' first book IN THE SHADOW OF THE BLACKBIRDS, but the two books of hers that I've read since have gone steadily down in ratings, and I'm at a loss to understand the disconnect between my reactions and all the praise heaped upon them.

Every single one of her books have their roots in and contain plot details that are right up my alley, and this one is no different: it's the story of a half-white, half-black girl trying to discover the truth of what killed her father in 1920s Oregon, with touches of the supernatural, women in difficult historical circumstances, a lgbtqi subplot, and Ku Klux Klan activities. There's every reason in the world for this book to set me on fire, particularly in regards to eugenics and other atrocities committed against the minorities here.

But neither the characterizations nor the writing here were strong enough to sweep me away. I should feel outraged and impassioned and impossibly moved, but as with THE CURE FOR DREAMING, I only experienced the barest minimum of intellectual curiosity and abstract pity. All the characters' motivations and interactions are pretty straightforward--there's no subtext or subtlety, let alone mystery in their making. The plot itself is serviceable, but the Hamlet inspirations alluded to in marketing materials really aren't all that strong/apparent, and the supernatural aspect could have been dropped altogether without much impact. Honestly, I nearly DNFed this one, except that I was very interested in what would happen to Joe.

I'm glad that authors try to look beyond their own experiences, and as always, Winters has clearly put a lot of thought and research into the set up for her story. But setting and circumstance alone do not make for a fantastic book, nor does having the luck of great book design and signature book "style." For me, with the continuation of old timey photographs (as found in all her previous, unrelated books), this book is more style than substance--but it's sort of sad that in this case, the style isn't even in the writing, but in the jacket and eye-catching interiors.

Will I still check out other books by this author? Probably at least another one, since I did like her first book. But at this point, I have to admit that my enthusiasm and expectations are fast waning.

If I had to pick just one word to describe this book, it would be: toothless.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.
Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
828 reviews3,674 followers
February 15, 2021


This book won't certainly appeal to everyone. It's not free of flaws, and I wasn't completely satisfied. And yet... As I said in my review of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, any book that tackles important and horrifying issues in such sensitive way, compelling the reader to do some researches about them deserves attention.

In this original retelling of the much beloved Hamlet, Cat Winters takes us into the xenophobic 1920s Oregon, where we follow Hanalee, a teenager whose father, African-American, died under strange circumstances. Eager to shed lights on this awful event, she soon realizes that each discovery proves to be more and more unsettling and excruciating.

Who is to be believed when the general atmosphere is one of distrust and rejection?
"Because we're living in corrupt times, Hanalee. Even the best intentions can sound cruel when spoken aloud."

First of all, Cat Winters shows again a real talent to convey an atmosphere and to write in a compelling and engrossing way. Indeed as it was the case with In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I was immersed in the world right away : the hopeless atmosphere is perfectly pictured, the desperation transpiring through every page, letting the reader feel all the anger, sadness and indignation Hanalee faces every day. It always appalls me to see such a racist world unfolded before my eyes (that's why I never read comments under YouTube videos, otherwise my pessimism would know no limits) : in these times, to be half African-American was a fault in itself, and if people stay relatively "nice" to her (think : hypocrites), it remains that Hanalee suffers daily from different kinds of negative comments about her hair, her skin, her future.

Think peril. Life threatening peril. Fear.

What do you picture?

A dystopian apocalyptic world? Dictators? Serial killers? Creepy aliens? Clowns? (okay, "clowns" is on me)

Say, you see this little quiet town in the middle of nowhere/Oregon. Not frightening? Aww, you're so sweet. We need some villains? Let's take people. Regular people. You know, the selfish, indifferent and stupid widespread kind.

Why create an awful fantasy world when we can have history? When we can have our world?

Because, really, what can we say about a world where a teenager is in peril if she enters a restaurant? It's so sneaky really - one second you're scared to death for her and thinking no noo don't go there! And suddenly you realize - but wait, it is a RESTAURANT. Why on earth should she be careful? Why on earth are you accepting it by thinking that she's acting wildly and dangerously by coming there? It's a RESTAURANT. Of course she can go. Oh, wait, no.

Again, welcome to 1920s Oregon, where biracial marriages are forbidden and eugenics laws allow authorities to castrate people because they're homosexuals.

This book made me so, so angry. This book made me furious. For that, I'm grateful. I never want to feel indifferent. Not ever. We need such books to remind us that we are not so far from these dark days and that stereotypes and barbarism are to be fought on a daily basis.

"Hate doesn't even begin to describe what's happening. (...) People in this state are controlling who can and can't breed, Hanalee. They're eradicating those of us who aren't white, Protestant, American-born, or sexually normal in their eyes. They're 'purifying' Oregon."

Lost in Cat Winters' words, I couldn't help but feel the hate and fear eating at them, this sickening atmosphere that can change a childhood sweetheart into an enemy. It was truly terrifying to see how peer pressure can morph someone into a completely different person. So, so sad.

Hanalee is a strong and likeable heroine whom I'm glad to have met here. One can argue that she takes some stupid or, let's say, rushed decisions, especially in regards of who to trust but I understood her. She reacts. She is young. Who wouldn't make mistakes now tell me?

Mostly the twists and turns managed to surprise me, even though I guess some parts, I have to admit. Yet in my opinion, it's not even the point : I was hooked from the beginning in any case, and I really appreciated that the story didn't fall into the stereotypical traps (there's no romance, for example).

As a retelling of Hamlet, I expected some kind of ghost apparitions and indeed her father's ghost has a critical role to play in the investigations of his death. Quite eerie, but I found the whole ghost giving answers a little too convenient... I didn't care much for these parts, I have to admit : not that they didn't convey emotion in me, because they did, but there was always an undercurrent of falsity that prevented me from completely buying it.

Unfortunately, I did find that, Hanalee excepted, the characterization could have shown more depth : indeed I never really got the sense that I knew any of them, including Joe, which does not mean that they weren't interesting characters to read about, though. This being said, the mystery unraveling before our eyes must be taken into account : perhaps the fog mustn't be lifted, after all. I'll let you judge.

Moreover, as much as I love Cat Winters's beautiful writing, the dialogues were a little too formulaic for my taste : sometimes they sounded fake to me, especially during the highly tensed parts.

Finally, the ending felt a little rushed. Yet it's hopeful, and it makes sense, as the journey we followed is coming to a end.

► Again, I feel the need to remind everyone that 3.5 stars isn't a bad rating in the slightest. Give this book a chance. Give this author a chance. They deserve it.

"Hate is a powerful demon that worms its way into the hearts of fearful men"

I will never let hate win. Please don't.

*arc kindly provided by Amulet Books. Thanks so much!*

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Profile Image for ♛Tash.
223 reviews210 followers
November 30, 2015
Review also on

The Steep and Thorny Way is the story of bi-racial small town Oregon girl, Hanalee Denney during Prohibition. Prohibition, a time in US history when the government banned the production and the distribution of alcoholic beverages. It was also a time when some were prohibited to be who they truly were. Those were truly dark days when establishments found it necessary to indicate the skin color of their clientele.

Being the only girl of color in the small town of Elston, Oregon, Hanalee's prospects for the future are bleak. She's not even allowed in most establishments, so how then can a girl of her circumstances seek justice for her murdered father?With the discovery that the boy incarcerated for the crime might have been simply at the wrong place and time, Hanalee inadvertently uncovers a truth more disconcerting than a hit-and-run.

Opening a Cat Winters book is like stepping into a time portal. She vividly transports the reader to the past that saturates the senses. It's always a jarring experience as she always writes stories set to a time and place in history when it was most stifling to be a woman. Doubly so as a woman of color.


I can only imagine how it feels like to be Hanalee, the only person of color in a town strongly influenced by the bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan. The hate was atmospheric and at every turn of the story, one can see how small the world was for Hanalee. The hatred was quite atmospheric in this book that I can't help but be enraged, and got a headache as a result. The level of research that Cat Winters does for her books is astounding, and the historical facts are thoughtfully incorporated into the novel.

I started to write a flimsy analogy for Hanalee's experience, but I had to stop myself because I can't possibly know. I cannot imagine hating someone enough to commit actual violence over the color of their skin or their religious beliefs, and cannot imagine being the focus of that hate.


This is perhaps because I live in a time when gender and racial equality prevails. Yet it is almost too easy to forget that this was paved in blood and tears by women like Hanalee. Women who wanted better and more. Characteristic of Cat Winters' main characters, Hanalee is easy to root for. She is imperfect and feels real, she's strong yet impulsive as any sixteen-year-olds in history.

Just like its protagonist, The Steep and the Thorny Way is not perfect.For one,I am not overly convinced by the unraveling of the mystery of the father's death. The supernatural element of the story was not as well done as she had previously in The Uninvited, and the ending felt a wee bit rushed and pat.

I should also mention that The Steep and Thorny Way is a retelling of Shakespeares' Hamlet, but uncultured swine that I am, I haven't read it, so I am unable to make comparisons with the original material.

Even with my nitpicking, I will strongly recommend this book to everyone. This is a very important historical YA book that'll remind us how far we've gone and how far we still have to go for equality.

***ARC was provided by ABRAMS Kids Amulet Books in exchange for an honest review***
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,079 reviews17.2k followers
June 14, 2022
The Steep and Thorny Way is a Hamlet retelling set in 1923 starring a biracial Black woman, Hanalee, as she attempts to investigate the death of her father in a possibly racially motivated hit-and-run, just as the accused killer, Joe, returns to town.

Overall, if I had to summarize my thoughts on this book, I would give it a solid mixed bag. There are some aspects of this that I adored, and a few that I found fairly forgettable. Cat Winters is a good writer; the pacing is at times a bit odd in the first hundred pages, but quickly picks up.

One of the strongest choices of this book is that the main relationship building isn’t a romance: It’s Hanalee and Joe’s enemies to unlikely besties plotline. Though their arc forms that of a romance, their roles to each other are those of best friends, and I genuinely adored that. The reader is more invested in their friendship by the end than we ever would be in any love story.

If I had to question elements of this book, I think certain elements struck me as slightly defanged. Some of this is probably generic—I’m a bit older in 2021 than when I was really into YA, and 2016 was a very different time for YA as a genre—but Hanalee and Joe are, for example, WAY too shocked by the existence of eugenics. This defanging dilutes the punch that aspects of this novel should carry.

I will also say, as someone with numerous Hamlet opinions, it’s a fairly loose Hamlet retelling. I like that the Claudius—Uncle Clyde—is sympathetic, as how he is in the play. Joe ending up becoming the Horatio character is an excellent choice. On other matters, I was slightly less convinced. The selection of Hanalee’s best friend, Fluer, as the Ophelia character, works fine, though I’m absolutely going to choose to read them as a couple given that she’s the Ophelia character. Her brother Laurence as Laertes also works fine, though his character is quite far from the original Laertes. Her mother makes for a deeply forgettable Gertrude. There’s another character, Mildred, who’s genuinely difficult to pinpoint as a Hamlet character. Tonewise, this novel is just not very near to Hamlet. If you’re looking for a Hamlet-style tragedy I would probably shy away.


In another way, though, I think this a perfect Hamlet retelling. To me, Hamlet is a play about the horror that comes from not being believed—from being perceived as insane, even as you are the only one who can see the truth. Incorporating forces of systematic racism and homophobia to the horrific, claustrophobic lack-of-belief that defines Hamlet is a fascinating take; so much of discrimination is in the fact that you cannot express what has happened to you, because no one will listen. Winters’s pinpointing of that is consistently the strongest and most compelling element of this novel, and what I know will stick with me about The Steep and Thorny Way: both as a Hamlet retelling, and as a novel.

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Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone (semi hiatus).
1,458 reviews182 followers
September 17, 2021

3.5 Stars

Well that was quite a clever and powerful reimagining of Hamlet.

Hanalee is our heroine and is investigating the suspicious death of her father. All the while her father's spirit is haunting the neighborhood. I love that the story explored racial hatred and negative attitudes to LGBTQIA people at this time in history. Such a good mash up of ideas Cat has incorporated into this retelling. There were some pacing issues at the beginning but then things picked up as Hanalee delved deeper into the prejudices within the community. An enjoyable YA book.
Profile Image for Drew.
445 reviews503 followers
April 4, 2016
“Hate is a powerful demon that worms its way into the hearts of fearful men.”

This is my favorite Cat Winters book I've read to date. I loved all of her dark, well-researched historical fiction books, but The Steep & Thorny Way felt a bit different. More mature, more emotionally effective, and with a deeper understanding of the characters.

I loved the main characters, Hanalee and Joe. They meant so much to me and I think this made me appreciate the plot even more.

Like always, the author took a brutal point in history and brought it to life so I felt like I was living during the time era as I was reading. Instead of focusing on war or the suffragette movement like in her former books, this time it was the Klu Klux Klan.

When Hanalee and Joe were being unfairly mistreated because they were perceived as "different" from everyone else, I was enraged. I couldn't believe the kinds of things people tried to do and did do to them - and sadly, this is historical fact. These kinds of acts actually took place during the early 1900s.

I loved Hanalee so much. She was an African-American girl who was trying to uncover her father's murderer. I loved her deep compassion for Joe, and their friendship, which didn't include an ounce of romance. She was spirited, had a quirky sense of humor, and a demanding side that I loved.

“Put your shirt on.” I inched toward the door. “I’m not standing in a shed with a half-naked boy.”

Racism toward African-Americans at the time was examined, and Winters expertly captured the horrible, awful way people thought that made me feel sick.

“They’re operating on women, too, and the fact that your skin is dark will only make them want to stop you from having children all the more.”

Winters is such a talented author and I wish more people would read her books. Her writing is somehow both simple and complex - easy to read, but detailed and articulate. I love her beautiful writing, well written characters, and immersive historical facts that keep me glued to the page.

The Steep & Thorny Way was both unbearably sad and full of hope. It handled some heavy and disturbing themes in ways that I didn't necessarily agree with, but I hugely appreciated the raw honesty the author used to portray them.
Profile Image for TL .
1,764 reviews35 followers
March 12, 2016
"What's wrong with people out there," I asked, "deciding who gets to have children and who has to be stopped from living the type of life that feels right to them? What's wrong with them?"

“Poisonous rivulets of hate and fear spread beneath the town’s sidewalks and buildings and strangled the beauty that had once bloomed through Elston.”

" I drew a deep breath and marched into the woods behind my house with a two-barreled pistol hidden beneath my blue cotton skirt. The pocket-size derringer rode against my outer right thigh, tucked inside a holster that had, according to the boy who had given it to me, once belonged to a lady bootlegger who'd been arrested with three guns strapped to her legs. "

" Headlights swerved into view, and I thought of Sheriff Rink patrolling the streets, or Deputy Fontaine with his Hollywood smile and his ties to Uncle Clyde. I jumped out of my circle and dove onto my belly in a patch of dirt behind wild blackberries, and as soon as the car roared by, my father seeped away into the darkness, as if swallowed up by ink.

He was gone.
Again. "

"The weight of an absence settled over me again. The Adders struck me as a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece. A multi-angled, not quite-the-same-shape-as-the-others piece that they tried to cover by squishing closer together on their picnic blanket.

"I followed him and we were off, shooting through the woods in a maze of trees and moss and feathered ferns that seemed to expand into primeval proportions. Firs stretched to the sky and blocked the waning daylight; leaves the size of my head scraped at my calves. We hurtled ourselves over poison oak and stinging nettles, logs, brooks, burrows, and even scampering chipmunks that eyed us with fear. "

Silence reigned over the world outside the window above the sink, and only a hint of the glow of whiskey stills peeked above the tops of the trees. Or maybe I only imagined that faint glimmer of orange. Maybe the world slept uneasily, holding its breath, waiting to see what I would do next.

Wow... wow... just, oh my... wow.

My thoughts are still scrambled after this and my heart is still pounding, especially in one later part of the book. *blows out a breath* Certainly something, Miss Winters... you gonna kill me with feelings haha.

This was a story that pulled on every possible emotion for me, I wanted to grab Hannalee, Joe, Fleur, and some others and pull them to safety afterwards going back and drop-kicking certain characters.

These 'laws' and attitudes in Oregon back in the day sickened and saddened me... (even nowaways, some people still thinking that way *shakes head*) Certain details especially had me so angry and wanting to throw up.

Once again, Miss Winters delivers us a haunting tale with compelling and complex characters and pulls out all the stops. She doesn't shy away from showing the ugliness of the reality back then and
it all feels so authentic and real that I found myself taking a few moments when I had to stop reading to remember where and when I was.

Hauntingly beautiful has been used to describe Miss Winters' writing and it is certainly true once again here. There's an air of menace and tension flowing throughout the novel and at times, fear and sadness.

Certain things come to light throughout that shifted and changed my perceptions of certain people a few times... sometimes in very surprising ways (a double surprise in one case... I had some pity for this person but his actions... it was hard to feel completely sorry for him, a fitting penance in a way I suppose).

My heart was pounding so hard at one point I thought I was gonna have to put the book aside and remind myself to breathe... there was one part

The ending gave me a small sense of hope that things might get better for the town and that

A gorgeous, important, beautiful book... highly recommend!
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,866 followers
August 1, 2016
Cat Winters’ books are always such things of beauty, and The Steep and Thorny Way is no exception. The quality of her prose and the depth of her research can only be compared to Ruta Sepetys, at least as far as historical YA goes.

Inspired heavily by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way is a strong enough book to stand entirely on its own and avoid any predictability. While she does use Hamlet’s themes in what could be considered a retelling (the death of protagonist’s father, potential murderer married to mother, plans of revenge), Winters doesn’t rely too heavily on them and constantly adds her own little twists.

The book starts with dramatis personae, there to remind us right away that The Steep and Thorny way is connected to another work. The mystery of Hank Denney’s death is at the forefront from the very beginning. Hanalee’s father was black and her mother is white, their marriage unrecognized in the state of Oregon in 1923. Hanalee mourns her father and dislikes her stepfather, the white town doctor who married her mother the second it could be considered appropriate.

The Ku Klux Klan was strong in Oregon at that time and Hanalee would undoubtedly have been a target. Racial injustice was far stronger in these rural environments than in places like Washington. The Klan was semi-public, seemingly an anti-Christian organization, but really anti everything that wasn’t white and male. Like with her previous books, Winters found a way to shed light on a historical subject, but also to connect problems of that time with issues we still struggle with today. Racism isn’t the only thing our Hanalee struggles with. As a biracial young woman with ambitions, she dreams about becoming a lawyer and marrying whomever she chooses, which seems to be out of her reach.

Through the preacher’s son, a young man accused of Hank’s murder, Winters also sheds light on LGBT issues of that time. Joe was possibly the only person who suffered more injustice than Hanalee, at least once he was discovered kissing a boy in his father’s car. Although his problems aren’t anything new, seeing him through Hanalee’s eyes certainly was. Her initial disgust was rooted in ignorance, and her change of views that came after talking to him and really thinking about him was wonderful.

It could be said that Winters tried to do just a bit too much this time. She is known for adding paranormal elements to her work, and a retelling of Hamlet certainly requires a restless ghost or two, but I sometimes felt that it could have been a stronger book without it. With the Ku Klux Klan and the LGBT themes so strong, there was enough going on even without the paranormal mystery. Nevertheless, a copy of this book needs to be in every house and read by every teenager. There is so much to learn through a connection with these characters.

Profile Image for hal .
769 reviews110 followers
July 27, 2016
Before I get to my review of the book, I just want to talk a minute about the history of eugenics in the United States. I have never been taught this in school . I am absolutely outraged and disgusted that not only were eugenics very prominent in the United States, to the point that a lot of historians believe Nazi Germany's eugenics were inspired by it, but we (Americans) completely overlook it and pretend like it never happened when talking about American history. I have been in school for about 11 years and never, not once have I ever learned about American eugenics.

Nothing good ever came out of ignoring history and not teaching the truth. American schools should teach honestly about all of American history- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now, for my review:

Holy shit, this book was INTENSE.

Thank you, Cat Winters, for writing a story with diverse characters and making it a good story. As much as I celebrate diversity, it's not enough for a book to be diverse. It has to have a solid plot and complex characters. That's exactly what The Steep & Thorny Way has. It is both diverse and genuinely good and I applause Ms. Winters for that.

There's some heavy themes like racism and homophobia, and I appreciate that they were addressed. I'm very sickened at the idea of all the bigotry that existed in the United States long ago. Honestly, some of that bigotry still exists today but it was so much more blatant back then and it sickened and disgusted me that people could be so full of hate. Yet I'm glad that the author shone a light on the bigotry that existed back then instead of ignoring it.

I really like Hannalee, she's strong and resilient and so likable. Also like Joe a lot.

There's a lot of action and it was so exciting and also kinda scary. I didn't know who to trust.

Tl;dr version- A well-written historical fiction with a diverse and likable set of characters, lots of action, and deals with heavy themes. Highly recommend. I only took off a star because I didn't quite love it, but I still liked it immensely.
Profile Image for Shannon (It Starts At Midnight).
1,084 reviews1,011 followers
March 8, 2016
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight
Cat Winters has done it again. She has managed to absolutely blow me away with her heartbreaking and gorgeous portrayal of, quite frankly, a really awful time to be a minority of any kind in the United States. (Well, historically, there hasn't really been a good time, but this is especially unsettling.) To write about this time period and the prejudices that accompany it is a very tricky (and honestly, brave) thing to do. It needs to be out there, but it needs to be done in the most respectful way possible, and I seriously couldn't imagine it being done any better.

Hanalee is a phenomenal character. She lost her African-American father, and was not happy that his supposed killer, Joe, was out of prison. So she threatened him, with a gun. But she is never closed minded, and she's always willing to listen to all sides- and then make an informed decision for herself about who/what to believe. Which is how she ends up forming a bond with Joe, talking to her ghost father, and finding that someone that she used to hold in high regard was now potentially involved with the Ku Klux Klan. She was brave, and yes, maybe even reckless, but she wanted the truth, and wasn't giving up until she had it.

While the issue of Hanalee's African heritage is certainly a hot topic in her Oregon town, there is so much more at play. The townspeople who used to befriend Hanalee have come to dislike her presence.
"'To keep us all safe, we can't afford to associate with a mulatto any longer.'

I sank back against the stone and felt my vertebrae become no stronger than a blade of river grass."


But even more than that, a lot of the people in this town want to ensure that everyone is "the same" as them. That is a thought process that, thankfully, I cannot wrap my head around. But that's the situation here, as the KKK begins to recruit young members, boys that Hanalee has grown up with. And then there's talk of eugenics, which blows even Hanalee's mind.
"My arms went cold. 'What are you even talking about? What body parts are people in prisons removing?'

Joe bit down on his pink bottom lip until the skin turned white. 'Castration.'


This book is powerful. It's not romantic, or flowery. It's real. And the thing about that is, this stuff happened. Every single day to people just like Hanalee's family and Joe, and so many others that I couldn't even begin to count. It's an honest and accurate historical fiction, something no textbook could ever begin to teach. The Steep and Thorny Way shows Hanalee's strength of character and unwillingness to give in to the atrocities around her. It's about friendships that can withstand the tough times, and those that can't. It's about families, and how they can fracture and break, but also repair and regrow.

Bottom Line: This book is going to break your heart. And it's going to give you hope. It will both destroy and restore your faith in humanity. It will do it with flawless writing, phenomenal characters, and a story that will stick with you long after you've closed the book. In a word? Brilliant.

*Quotes taken from uncorrected proof, subject to change.
**Copy provided by publisher for review.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,370 reviews918 followers
September 2, 2016
The year is 1923 and in a small town in Oregon, hate spreads like wildfire. Life is challenging for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a black man and a white woman, but she has learned to persevere. When her father is killed by a drunk driver, she’s devastated by his absence from her life, especially after her mother quickly remarries. The boy responsible for his death, Joe Adder, is released from prison a mere seventeen months after being sentenced and once Hanalee finds out she takes her anger and a loaded gun to pay him a visit. After speaking with Joe, she leaves with her entire perception changed after hearing a vastly different story about what happened the night her dad died: he didn’t die from an automobile accident and that the man her mom remarried is the one truly responsible for his death.

I’ve read every Cat Winters book at this point but they seem to be hit or miss for me. I loved both In the Shadow of Blackbirds and The Uninvited, but felt The Cure for Dreaming was slightly mediocre in comparison. The Steep & Thorny Way falls in the latter category. Much like Dreaming, I felt that the subject matter was something I would normally welcome, however, overall it ended up feeling incredibly flat and listless. Cat Winters signature style has always been a fusion of stories with historical importance and a flair of paranormal, and it’s something that she does quite well. With, Thorny though, the Hamlet retelling comparisons as well as the paranormal aspects were elements which could have been left out entirely without affecting the story. A story about a half black/half white girl living during the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and a homosexual boy that is struggling to survive in a time where the study of eugenics has many thinking the issue of homosexuality is something that can be “fixed” is absolutely a strong enough story on its own.

I always appreciate the lesser known periods of history being given a spotlight and it’s interesting to see a story focus on the influence of the Ku Klux Klan extending far past the deep South, clear into Oregon. Tackling both race and sexuality prejudices in addition to touching on the topic of eugenics was edifying without feeling overwhelming, except I kept feeling off and on as if these characters were simplistic versions of their true potential. I suppose what it all boils down to though is Winters definitely demonstrates the ugliness of the times, yet it’s covered in a glossy veneer that hides the true grotesqueness doing the seriousness of the story somewhat of a disservice.

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Profile Image for Heather (The Sassy Book Geek).
354 reviews138 followers
May 1, 2017
Originally Posted On The Sassy Book Geek

***Thank You To Netgalley & ABRAMS Kids Amulet Books For Giving Me This ARC In Exchange For An Honest Review***

This is my first Cat Winters book and color me VERY impressed. I can't believe it's taken me this long to read one of her books!

I don't think a review will do the book justice! I'm also going to go ahead and let you all know that I had a hard time writing this review, it was such a different and unique book I didn't quite know where my thoughts were. I apologize if the review's kind of all over the place.

Let's just jump right into the review then, shall we?

Let's Talk About That Plot:

I'm just going to start and off and remind all of you that this book is retelling of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and I've never read "Hamlet". I know, I know but that's the truth. Therefore I won't be making any comparisons between this book and that play.

I will tell you that while I read I did make some comparisons between this book and "The Lion King" though....since that's also based off of "Hamlet". That counts right?

Moving on!

Cat Winters really immerses you into the time period, reading this book was like being thrown back into the 1920's. She pays attention to every detail and shows us the world through the eyes of a young colored girl living during a time where the Ku Klux Klan ran rampant. Winters also explores the prohibition briefly as well as the eugenics movement.

This book had such a powerful atmosphere to it and there was a lot of hate in that atmosphere as well as fear and sadness. I felt every emotion while I read "The Steep & Thorny Way". Hate at the bigots who tried to empower themselves through terrorizing innocent people and fear for the characters becoming victims of such hate.

It gets VERY emotional, I choked up more than a couple of times while reading.

I also really loved how Cat weaved a paranormal element into the story, apparently this is a theme with her writings but since this is my first book by her I cannot really go into detail on that. There was just the right amount of paranormal added that worked well with the mystery of what actually happened to Hanalee's father.

The story does take some turns for the better and the worse, it managed to keep me on edge as well as keep me guessing. It wasn't as predictable as most YA books these days, there was no insta-love, no love triangle, no romance at all to speak of. I loved it for that too.

Cat's writing is probably my favorite part though, it's quite simply beautiful. I don't think anything I write will do it justice, but it really pulls you into everything that's happening. You feel what the characters are feeling and that signifies to me a book that was written fantastically.

I did enjoy the overall story/plot of "The Steep & Thorny Way", it was very engaging and moved along at a decent pacing. But I had some minor issues with it.

One being that I felt the central mystery of the plot was a little lacking, there wasn't enough searching and trying to figure it out on Hanalee's part. Her father's ghost pretty much provided her with all of the answers, Hanalee didn't have to do much figuring on her own. That's a little to convenient for me but not anything that bugged me immensely while reading.

Another problem I had was that the ending came a little bit too soon for me. I had to double check just to make sure I'd read it right, it just felt a bit too rushed. It was a good ending though, just felt a tish bit off.

Onto The Characters:

Hanalee Denney is our main protagonist and she's probably the best part about reading this book. She's strong and determined, but she's also very believable as a character. She isn't perfect, she has her flaws. Hanalee also makes some very rushed decisions throughout her journey, but else do you expect of a 16 year old girl? She simply is reacting to what the world has thrown at her.

Hanalee is simply everything I love in a main character, especially a female one.

There's also Joe Adder who is pretty much the secondary main character and I absolutely loved him. I loved him just as much as I loved Hanalee. He's also a victim of hate and hate crimes. I won't spoil why for you though. Joe is a very strong to overcome the obstacles that were put in his path and he's quite a sympathetic character.

There was also a slew of secondary characters as well such as Hanalee's mother and stepfather, and her best friend Fleur. They were good characters but they didn't really add a whole lot to the story for me.

In Conclusion:

Overall this is a fantastic piece of historical fiction and even though the mystery in the plot didn't really work for me, the setting more than made up for it. I also loved that this book contained none of the usual YA tropes I'm used to seeing in other books.


Most definitely, if you're a lover of unique books that don't have your usual YA tropes then this is for you! Also if you love historical fiction books, this is probably one of the best around!


Holy crap this was awesome! Usually I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction buy man oh man did this ever change my mind! The number one question I have now is "Why haven't I read Cat Winters before this?"

The writing is beautiful, Cat Winters' writing style is seriously something else. It was probably my favorite part.

The characters were so well developed, I loved them! I don't think I've gotten so emotional over characters in a book in a long while. I may or may not have cried.....

I can't think of anything negative about it to be honest, not a single flaw in my opinion.

I don't even think any review I write will do it justice! Now please excuse me while I go put every Cat Winters book at my library on hold....
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,401 reviews254 followers
September 1, 2019
Cat Winters is one of my favorite historical fiction writers who adds a dash of fantasy to her stories. The Steep & Thorny Way is no exception. I particularly love that her stories feel so real. It's clear that she does a lot of research to bring her characters and their world to life. I always enjoy reading her historical notes and looking at the photos she incorporates into the story. I'd say that Hanalee is her best character so far. She's brave and won't give up until she learns the truth. Plus, she's quite open-minded and always willing to listen to all sides and learn all she can before she makes decisions. This powerful story deals with tough topics and Winters handles them well and thoughtfully. Overall, I highly recommend The Steep & Thorny Way to those interested in this author's style, historical fiction, paranormal, and even Shakespeare's Hamlet. Next up, I'll need to pick up Odd & True and then her contribution to Slasher Girls & Monster Boys before I'll be all caught up on her work.
Profile Image for Stacee.
2,670 reviews701 followers
February 2, 2016
Hamlet has always been one of my favorite plays, so I was quite eager to see what Cat was going to do with it.

I loved Hanalee right from the start. She's smart and capable and really doesn't take shit from anyone. I loved that she was strong enough to stand up to do the right thing in such a hard situation. And I absolutely adored the scenes when she had her gun.

I really enjoyed the twist on Hamlet. It was a unique take and didn't unfold exactly like I was expecting. There were a few things that happened that I didn't see coming and I was thrilled to get those surprises.

The additional of the time period photos was a treat. And to read the book and know things like that actually took place had me shuddering. Overall, the story was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.

**Huge thanks to Abrams for sending me the arc**
Profile Image for Hannah (jellicoereads).
792 reviews153 followers
November 29, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, Cat Winters has done it yet again. I’m running out of praise for this author. Her combination of supernatural, history and feminism is unparalleled – and how great is it to find an author who just delivers each time?

The Steep and Thorny Way does have Hamlet-like elements to it, but diverges on one of the more pivotal plot twists and takes on a life of its own. It also strikes me as a darker book than her other work, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment.

There’s a powerful movement to cleanse this country of the wrong sorts of people.

The novel is set in the state of Oregon during the 1920s, a time of racism and the KKK, rampant homophobia, and the Prohibition with its associated bootlegging activities. Of course, the first two elements were more prevalent in small towns, such as the one our MC Hanalee inhabits, than the bigger cities, which tended to be more liberal.

Hanalee, as a mixed race child of a black father and a white mother, faces a huge amount of ugly prejudice from many of the people in her town. After her father’s death, supposedly caused by a drunk driver, the son of the town reverend, she embarks on a quest to find out the truth of what happened that night, spurred on by the appearance of his ghost around town.

I won’t go into the rest of the story – the journey of discovery is for you, dear readers, to experience – but the book is certainly an exploration of unusual allies, contesting loyalties, enduring friendships, and the lines we draw that divide us. I was particularly charmed by the character of Joe, the alleged guilty party in the death of Hanalee’s father. The platonic relationship that develops between our MC and Joe was really wonderful to behold – even though they got off to a rather rocky start.

The author also briefly delves into the eugenics movement, where scientists and politicians sought to prevent the “wrong sorts” of people from being able to reproduce – such as people of colour and homosexuals, for example. It’s a horrifying yet morbidly fascinating part of American history that I don’t think is too well known.

There is also a fair amount of irony in the fact that we’re really seeing history repeat itself, in a way – almost 100 years later, and there’s still fear of letting the wrong kinds of people into our towns and cities.

I did find the ghost aspect just a little too convenient, providing the answers needed at the right time, but that does follow on in the tradition of Hamlet, of course, and contributed to the creepy aura.

Overall though, the novel is a celebration of overcoming the ugliness of human nature, of hope and survival, of fighting back, and of grief, for both the people we lose through death, and those we lose via other forms of separation. The prose flows well, which led to me speeding through the book, and despite the unpleasant nature of the history, was an utterly enjoyable read. While the author’s books are not action packed, they have a quiet brilliance to them that really resonates with me.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
March 21, 2016
Living in 1920s Oregon is especially hard for bi-racial Hanalee Denney. Her mother is white and her deceased father was African American. Her father, unfortunately, died when he was struck by a drunk driver. The drunk driver is a teenager and now he's out of jail. Everyone is telling Hanalee to stay away from him; after all, he did kill her father, but she is curious about what he has to say. He says that he isn't actually responsible for her father's death, but instead it's the doctor that looked after him. This doctor just so happens to be Hanalee's new stepfather! Obviously this blows Hanalee's mind; she realizes she has no choice other than to ask her father herself as many people have reported his ghost wanders the street where he died. To make matters worse, the KKK is prevalent in town, there's bootleggers, and racial tension...all this lead to major complications for Hanalee. The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters is a suspenseful murder mystery as well as a glimpse into what life would have been like for a bi-racial teenager living in the 1920s. Fans of historical fiction will appreciate this story the most.
Read the rest of my review here:
Profile Image for Marina.
906 reviews166 followers
March 20, 2016
This is the case of "it's not you, it's me."

I liked the story itself and the plot and even the characters, but I did not like the writing. I felt that it made the story and plot really choppy.

Nevertheless, I think that this was a fascinating story. Based on Hamlet, but set in Oregon in the early 19oo's when the KKK began establishing their base there. Hanalee is a mixed raced girl whose African-American father was killed by a drunk driver, and her white mother remarries another white man. But when the boy responsible for the accident is released early, and Hanalee's father's ghost begins haunting the town roads, Hanalee learns that the accident wasn't really an accident and someone may have murdered her father... number one suspect: her new step-father.

Winters clearly did her research and she doesn't shy away from the ugly truths of racism, discrimination, eugenics, and homophobia. It was the reality of many people back then and the fact that Winters doesn't try to "cushion" the facts is really great.

I really liked Hanalee - while she was affected by the racism of her town, she still had dreams and aspirations and she was willing to fight and make a difference. She refused to be the victim. Everyone was ... not as well defined and I didn't particularly feel attached or liked any of the characters.

I would have liked the ending to have a little more drawn out - I was just starting to get frightened for Hanalee and her family when suddenly it was all over and it all ended.

Overall, the story is interesting, but I'm not impressed by the writing - at all.
Profile Image for Jamie (Books and Ladders).
1,251 reviews188 followers
January 21, 2016
Actual Rating: 4.5*
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

I will have a full review closer to the release date, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I liked that it was built out of the basic premise for Hamlet and that there were references to the play but it was entirely it's own story and one that needed to be told. I think the best part is that it was "accessible" to people because, even if you haven't read Hamlet, you know the general story line so you had a bit of an idea of what was going to happen. However, this story is so much more than just about Hanalee finding her father's killer and I highly recommend this one.

Books and Ladders | Queen of the Bookshelves | Books Are My Fandom | Twitter | Instagram | Bloglovin'
Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,202 reviews390 followers
June 21, 2016
See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! Though the publisher provided me with an eARC for review, my review is of the finished book. I had to buy a print copy because the photographs in the ebook file overwhelmed both my laptop and my Nook.
Diversity Rating: 4 – This is Our World
5 (Hanalee is the biracial daughter of a black man and a white woman; her identity is central to the story)
QUILTBAG: 5 (Joe’s identity as a gay man is also central to the story)
Disability: 0 (Hanalee’s dad has a telltale limp as a ghost, but that’s it)
Intersectionality: 4 (between them, Hanalee and Joe say a lot about race and sexuality that’s still relevant today)

I just… What am I supposed to say? This novel is brilliant! I’ve been on the outs with YA historical novels lately for a variety of reasons and my history with Cat Winters’s YA novels didn’t create high expectations, but The Steep and Thorny Way completely blew me away! It’s what every historical YA novel should be. Let’s just get on with it.

Winters creates a vivid setting with Elston, Oregon and plants some incredible characters here as well. Hanalee, our Hamlet figure, is a though young woman and her anger is palpable whether it’s due to living in a racist town as a biracial girl or uncovering what really happened to her father. Her partner in crime/investigating Joe is just as well-written and challenges her when she needs it, such as when she needs to learn how much it sucks to be a gay man. The pair work well together as an investigative team trying to solve the mystery of Hanalee’s father’s real cause of death.

If you want a straight retelling of Hamlet, the novel isn’t going to give you one. The parallels are clear, but the story is its own creation. It simply builds from Shakespeare’s legendary play and becomes its own creature. As fun as straight retellings can be, it’s incredible when a book mixes the classic and the original well. Toward the second half of the novel, the story starts treading new territory and only gets better from there.

A great deal of YA historical novels are set in Victorian times or during World War II. Those stories are valid but can get a little boring after a while. That’s part of the reason The Steep and Thorny Way is so wonderful: it takes readers to a time and place they likely knew nothing about before and teaches them about that time/place without being didactic. Instead, it’s surprising at every turn and may make a future historian out of some readers. The systemic sterilization of gay men in the prison system, how much influence the Ku Klux Klan had in 1920s Oregon, and more were things I had no idea about and I consider myself a history buff!

Basically, if you want to be surprised and presented with something you know nothing about, The Steep and Thorny Way is an excellent bet. If all my talk seems rambling and nonsensical, it’s because putting words to a book this incredible is difficult. I’d rather shove the book in your face and make you experience the story for yourself.

For once, I’ve kept it short and sweet. Now quit wasting time here and go buy your own copy of The Steep and Thorny Way! This is what historical YA novels should aspire to be. Anyone who wants to write such a novel should read this as research, but I’m going to recommend this to anyone. (I recommend getting a print copy, however. Though I got an ebook of it for review, I had to purchase a print copy because the image-heavy ebook kept crashing both my laptop and my Nook. Now I regret nothing.)
Profile Image for Shomeret.
1,036 reviews200 followers
June 13, 2016
I liked the last two Cat Winters books, The Cure For Dreaming and The Uninvited. When I discovered that she had written a new YA novel with a bi-racial protagonist, I was intrigued and wanted to find out if she could pull it off.

I know that one of the reasons why African Americans object to POC characters as protagonists in novels written by Caucasian writers like Cat Winters is that it leads to books by African American writers being ignored. The more visible and successful Caucasian writers get to dominate the market with their portrayals of African American life. Although some African American authors do get contracts from traditional publishers, there aren't as many as there should be. I really do recognize that as a problem.

So I saw that someone on Goodreads was asking whether this book is racist. Please note that I saw no one asking if the YA novel Soundless by Richelle Mead is racist or anti-deaf because she writes about a Chinese deaf village when she is neither Chinese nor deaf. While I can't vouch for the cultural authenticity of either this novel or Richelle Mead's, I can speak about the impact they had on me. I felt that that Richelle Mead's book strongly condemns prejudice against the deaf, and I felt that Cat Winters was strongly condemning racism.

In fact, it seems to me that framing a narrative about a bi-racial girl trying to get justice for the death of her African American father as a Hamlet re-telling implies that her story is just as significant as the one that Shakespeare was telling in Hamlet. It's saying that her readers should sit up and take notice because something having been rotten in the state of Oregon is as important as something having been rotten in the state of Denmark. And the rot in Oregon in 1923 was that prejudice was king.

Finally, Hanalee is a strong female protagonist. She is very independent. She refuses to be confined by conventional expectations. She wants to marry anyone she chooses regardless of race which she couldn't do legally in Oregon at that point. She wants a good education so that she could become a lawyer. She carries a pistol and is a very good shot. That's the kind of heroine that I like to see in YA fiction.

For the blog version of this review see http://wwwbookbabe.blogspot.com/2016/...

Profile Image for Maddie Driban.
14 reviews
March 7, 2018
The Steep and Thorny Way was thrilling, chilling, and completely fulfilling. I was pulled into the story from the first chapters and couldn't put it down. I loved reading about a young woman's strength and bravery, especially set in a time period that this was obviously rare and controversial....and meaningful. Feeling excited by a storyline filled with prejudice and discrimination surprised me a little, but also makes sense when I think about the resilience that also fills the pages. As a reader, the fear and love and betrayal and gumption and friendship of the characters felt so real. I loved seeing and feeling the different perspectives of people living in 1920's Oregon and the author's attention to detail and care in getting the characters and their stories right - she really did them justice.

Tying the story to the template of Hamlet was so creative and I loved the hints and references to this classic Shakespeare tale. Having a historical fiction/ghost story/adventure keeping me on the edge of my seat was really unique and special. Cat Winters certainly did her job as a writer, bringing hope and inspiration to a story of hardship - this is a book for anyone who has ever found themselves on a Steep and thorny path.
Profile Image for Carina Olsen.
777 reviews144 followers
November 19, 2015
I have wanted to read this book for so long now. I knew I would love it. And I did. Which makes me so thrilled. I have read and loved three books by Cat Winters before this one, so happy that I loved this fourth book by her as well. And I simply cannot wait to read more books by this precious author. She is the best :)

I was a tiny bit nervous about reading this book, considering how much I loved all of Cat's other books, I worried a bit that I wouldn't love this one as much. As I always worry. But I hadn't needed to worry at all. Because I loved this book the most. It was so stunning. I'm so happy with how much I loved it. Ack.

The writing is just so beautiful. I love how Cat writes her books. And how she writes her characters too. Because oh how I loved all the characters in this one. The main girl, Hanalee, is all kinds of adorable. I loved reading about her. About her life. About her family. I adored getting to know her more. She was truly such an amazing sixteen year old girl. Sigh. I loved that this book was from her point of view. But sobs. I'm a bit heartbroken that Cat only writes standalones. Because I want a sequel to this one so badly; like with all her previous books too. But especially for this one. I feel like I'm not done getting to know Hanalee. I want to know much more. About Hanalee. About Joe. About everything. I wish for a sequel the most.

Everything about this book was perfection. And I'm not sure what to share about it. Ack. It is much harder to talk about a book that I loved than a book I didn't love. Because I have nothing much to comment on about this one, lol. Because I loved everything. And that is just about all I feel like saying about it. Ack. But I shall try to write more. Because I want to give you all a reason to read this book. To love it like I did. If you already own it, you should not put off reading it. Read it now. And love it now.

I love that this book takes place in 1923. I must admit, I don't really know any history from before. Only what I have read in previous books by Cat, lol. So I didn't know anything about this time before reading this book. And I'm good with that. Because I learnt so much while I read this one. The time period was so amazing to read about. There was so much hate. It broke my heart. Yet it was pretty stunning to read about, so I loved it a lot as well. To be honest, though, I could not have lived in this time period. Ack.

I must say that there was one thing that made me a tiny bit sad. That there is no romance in this book. Okay, there is a romance in my mind, and there is a kiss, but it isn't the focus of the book. Which made me a bit sad. But I didn't mind too much, because this book was perfect even without romance. The characters were all so strong to read about. But yeah. I did ship Hanalee and Joe so badly. Ahh. The ending is a bit open. But hoping Cat might answers some of my questions about it. Fingers crossed :)

There are so many characters in this precious book. Okay, there isn't that many, but still a lot. I adored Hanalee the most. But I also adored Joe so much. He is a bit different as well. And he is so hurt because of it. It isn't fair. Sniffs. He was so kind, though. And awesome. Hanalee has this best friend, Fleur. She was all kinds of awesome. Not in the book much, but enough for me to love her lots. Her brother, though, Laurence, him I hated. He was awful. And I wish his ending had been brutal, lol. Just saying :)

I'm not going to talk about the other characters. Just that I was so excited to read about all of them. I sort of disliked most of them, hah, but some I really adored. Like, I grew to love Hanalee's family a lot, despite disliking them at first. There were two twin brothers that I hated more than anything. I wish they had had a bad ending too. Hmph. I shall just have to imagine it myself, lol. But good or bad, I loved reading about all the characters. I loved everything about this book. It was all exciting and interesting.

I'm not going to say anything about the plot, not really. Just that to me it was mostly about the friendship between Hanalee and Joe. About them trying to live their life without getting killed. About people being awful, yet Hanalee not breaking down. It was a beautiful book. With a beautiful story. I couldn't have loved it more than I did. The Steep and Thorny Way is one of a kind. It is such a stunning book. I loved it the very most. The characters are all incredible. The plot is exciting and heartbreaking.

Huge thank you to the publisher, Amulet Books, for accepting my Netgalley request to read this book early. Means the most to me. So glad that I have now read and loved it, hih. I just. I own precious ARC copies of all her books. But not this one. And I want a print ARC of it the very most. If anyone have it for trade, please let me know. I'm dying to add it to my collection :) This book was simply perfect. And I need you all to read it when it in March. You will not regret it. So excited to see what everyone thinks.


This review was first posted on my blog, Carina's Books, here: http://carinabooks.blogspot.no/2015/1...
Profile Image for Madeleine.
248 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2017
I have capital-O Opinions when it comes to Shakespeare adaptations, so maybe it isn't fair to dock this book points for not being Hamlet-y enough - but hey, I must to mine own self be true, right?
October 17, 2022
Book Review
Title: The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters
Genre: Historical, Drama, Retelling
Rating: 5 Stars
The Steep & Thorny Way is a retelling of Hamlet set in 1920’s prohibition America following a mixed race main character, Hanalee Denney. Hanalee’s father, Hank was killed in a car accident almost two years before the story begins and Joe Adder, the boy convicted of his murder has been released. Hanalee speaks with Joe and he claims that her father seemed fine until Doctor Clyde Koning turned up and her father died, however, Clyde is now her stepfather as he married her mother Greta, just over a year after her father died. Joe’s story fits with Hanalee’s existing doubts about Clyde but he also claims that Clyde has connections to the KKK which is worrying for her and coupled with the fact several people including her best friend, Fleur claim to have seen her father’s ghost has Hanalee wondering whether it was an accident at all. Obviously this fits pretty closely with the story it is based off so I am hoping that it isn’t a direct retelling and that there are some twists along the way otherwise this is going to be a little boring.
As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel, Hanalee ends up staying the night at Fleur’s because she doesn’t want to be at home and after Fleur confesses that she thinks she has seen Hank’s ghost as well Hanalee pays a visit to Mildred the next day. Mildred gives her a bottle of elixir that will allow her to see her father’s ghost and gives her instructions on how to use it so after her mother and Clyde head to bed that night she does exactly what Mildred said before heading the place where Joe hit her father with his car. There she waits and eventually her father’s ghost comes to her and they talk, he explains that Joe was right in what he said that he did hit Hank with the car but he was fairly ok after it and that it was Clyde who killed him before he sends her home. However, Hanalee doesn’t go home she goes to the barn where Joe is hiding and tells him that she believes him now she has spoken to her father’s ghost and Joe knows there will be no getting rid of Clyde unless they kill him which neither wants to do but it seems it must be done. After heading home and sleeping off the elixir the deputy comes to question her the next morning about Joe’s location and she lies saying he has left town since she trusts him now after he confessed to her that he was homosexual which at this time is a punishable offense and she makes her displeasure about her questioning and Clyde known before heading out.
As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel, Hanalee spends more time with Joe talking things through with him as she feels she needs more proof against Clyde before they try to kill him otherwise she wouldn’t feel right. Joe isn’t keen on waiting since he wants his revenge now and Laurence wants him out of the barn as soon as possible and this upsets Hanalee because she has been sweet on Laurence, Fleur’s brother for a long time but recently he is acting colder towards her and she knows it is because she isn’t white like him. Joe agrees to give Hanalee one night to test Clyde before they begin planning his death as she ends up doing this by choosing a bible story that is similar to what happened to her father and Clyde loses it. He end sup screaming and shouting at Hanalee believes that Joe is in his house and this seems to further her mother’s idea that Hanalee is sleeping with Joe which isn’t true and before Clyde can do anything to her Hanalee flees. While Clyde does chase her into the woods he doesn’t know they as well as her and she manages to retrieve her gun threatening her and telling him that she wants nothing to do with him and he should know the reason why. The tension and atmosphere is really ramping up as we get closer to the halfway mark and I can’t wait to see where it goes now.
As we approach the halfway mark in the novel, Hanalee running to meet up with Joe since she doesn’t know where else to go and she knows he will also be in danger especially if he is found and the pair escape into the woods where they end up spending the night while they decide on what to do next. However, they are found by the Witten boys who they now know are associated with the KKK and they have to come up with a story on the fly about what they are doing together and they come up with eloping. This makes sense since everyone knows an interracial marriage wouldn’t be officially sanctioned in their state and it puts the rumours of Joe being gay to rest protecting them both in a sense. Despite getting the boys to leave Joe knows he has to take Hanalee home because they can’t run much further without supplies as they will starve or freeze to death and it leaves Clyde alive which isn’t what he wants. Putting herself back in Clyde’s path is the last thing Hanalee wants but she understands what Joe is trying to say but pleads with him to come up with another plan, a legal plan, that doesn’t involve killing Clyde and he promises to try. Back home she convinces her mother and the police that the eloping story is real and returned because she felt guilty and Joe is heading to Washington but Clyde is pushing her to leave her father’s death alone and Hanalee isn’t going to do that especially since she knows the truth now.
As we cross into the second half of the novel, after Hanalee’s confession about seeing her father’s ghost she is treated like something fragile which she hates considering it is the truth but she begins looking into the KKK connections a bit more. With her mother’s help they learn that Clyde isn’t connected to them at all but she knows people in the town are like the Witten boys. At a local picnic she runs into Mildred who explains her father is still haunting their house and she needs to do something about it before her mother hires someone to make his ghost go away for good which is the last thing Hanalee wants right now. After that she learns that Laurence is keeping Fleur away from him hurting both girls and in a confrontation with Hanalee he admits his connection to the KKK claiming it is to keep his family safe so they can’t be seen with her or associate with her. Shortly after this there are informed of a body matching Joe’s description having been found which sends Hanalee into a spiral. Strangely it is Clyde who pulls her out of this and she speaks with him, he tells her that Joe isn’t dead and it is too far for him to go in a short space of time and that if he comes back to tell him to put aside his anger and Clyde will help him get somewhere he will be accepted. This conversation leaves Hanalee confused until she speaks to her father again and he clarifies that when he blamed the doc, he didn’t mean doc as in doctor but doc as in the Dry Dock, a local restaurant. He explains that the clan where in the Dry Dock the night he died and they are the ones responsible for his death not Clyde which breaks Hanalee’s heart since Clyde has been trying to support her and get to know her all this time and she has thought him capable of murder. Her father encourages her to educate herself and brings the weapons of truth and justice back to help others like herself and Joe which she agrees to.
As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel, I was liking how the story was slowly moving away from the Hamlet plot and developing the racial and social issues and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the end since Clyde mentioned Joe being a sacrifice in order to keep her and her safe. This means Clyde might have outed Joe as being gay to protect Hanalee from the clan since she is mixed race. Through talking with her father’s ghost and her own detective work and fortitude, Hanalee finally uncovers the full story about what happened the night her father died and it changes the entire direction of the book in a good way. The book changed from being a standard Hamlet retelling to being something much more important and emotional. We get to see Hanalee and Joe’s friendship develop to the point where they are willing to each put their lives on the line for the other which is a very real possibility now that the KKK have painted targets on all of them from Hanalee for her race, Joe for his sexual orientation, the Deputy for his religion and Greta and Clyde to for simply associating with them and protecting Hanalee. Seeing the bond between Hanalee and Clyde developing was amazing even after he confessed knowing about how Hank died from that very night and how he lied in court and threw Joe under the bus to protect her because he loves and cares for Hanalee and wants to know her better. These moment literally made me tears up and I wanted more of them to the point I wouldn’t have minded if the book was 100 pages longer just to have them.
As we cross into the final section of the novel, we get to see the final confrontation between Hanalee, Joe and the KKK where Hanalee proves she is willing to do whatever it takes in order survive but she isn’t willing to sacrifice her friends or family to do it. Seeing Hanalee risk her own life to protect Joe was beautiful and it really developed her character so much and those final moments she spends with her dad as he carries her home was amazing although Hanalee might have just hallucinated the entire thing but we don’t know. Seeing the ending and how the town fought back against the KKK especially after key members were dealt with and how they became stronger as a community for it was great. The final scenes of Joe leaving for Seattle with Hanalee and her family now including Fleur not far behind was great as it ends with so much hope even though they know the problem of the KKK isn’t limited to where they live but they have a greater chance of being accepted there. The only complaint I have is I wanted more bonding time between Hanalee and Clyde especially at the end, maybe a single scene where Hanalee explains that he can never replace her father but if she had to he would be it would have been so nice but overall this was an outstanding read and I highly recommend you all read it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Mathis.
469 reviews53 followers
February 8, 2016
A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.

1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

- - - - -

Rating: 5/5 Penguins
Quick Reasons: educational, awesome glimpse into 1920s Oregon; entertaining, fun characters; a sense of mystery and flair for drama; some interesting/unforseen plot twists; complex, heart-wrenching story; subtle but easy-to-spy influence/references to Shakespeare's Hamlet; LIFE RUINER!

Huge thanks go out to Cat Winters, Amulet Books, and Netgalley for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered how I read or reviewed this book!

“Do you hope to get married someday?” he asked.

“As long as I don’t fall in love with a man the wrong color.”

He exhaled a steady stream of air through his nostrils. “I think love and wrong are two deeply unrelated words that should never be thrown into the same sentence together. Like dessert and broccoli.”

GUYS! I forgot how much I absolutely love love looooove reading historical fiction! And this?! This book is the perfect melting pot of historical, diverse, and absolutely brilliant. Also, apparently it's a Hamlet retelling, which I didn't know going in...but can definitely see now! I have to admit, when I found out that little tidbit, I squealed a bit TOO loudly in the husband's ear. I don't think he likes me very much right now; I proceeded to go on a five minute rant about how much I love Hamlet. Oops!

But seriously, let's get into this. The book starts off RIGHT in the middle: with Hanalee pointing a gun at the head of her father's murderer, threatening to kill him. I mean really...if you weren't sure about the book before diving in, by the end of the first chapter you should be hooked and dying to know what happens next! I could not slow down while reading; this was a break-neck, full-throttle tilt into the mysteries and drama of 1920s Oregon.

Silence reigned over the world outside the window above the sink, and only a hint of the glow of whiskey stills peeked above the tops of the trees. Or maybe I only imagined that faint glimmer of orange. Maybe the world slept uneasily, holding its breath, waiting to see what I would do next.

Cat Winters did her research, and I give her major props for weaving everything she learned/knew about this time period into a dramatic, heart-wrenching, awesome read! The characters are engaging, redeemable (in the cases that matter, anyway) and complex. They will push your buttons. They will annoy you. They will FORCE you to think outside the box...and to think about things you might not have considered before. This entire read is written in a way that pushes readers out of their comfort zones and makes them actually think about what's going on. And it will piss you off, no doubt about it. It will make you nauseaus. It will turn your blood to acid in your veins. If you're anything like me...you'll love every minute of it.

The prose is also pretty astounding—gorgeous, melodic, and descriptive in all the right places. There's a masterful blend of the realistic with the paranormal that Cat Winters pulls off beautifully—and manages to work seamlessly into the time period. The entire story is seamless—the plot is action-packed, filled with mystery, and wrapped up by the last page without holes. The character's all go through life-changing, deep growths. And hey...it's 1920s Hamlet! Where could you go wrong?!

“I brought flowering almonds for you,” she said, and she handed me the flowers, which she had wrapped in a white handkerchief and secured with a ribbon the same pink as the petals.

“Are these for luck, too,” I asked, “like the alfalfa?”

“No, for hope.” She squeezed my hand. “An entire bouquet full of hope.”

This is a fantastic, pulse-pounding, haunting read—I promise you do NOT want to miss out on it! I'd definitely recommend to lovers of historical fiction, diverse characters, and just a slice of paranormal mixed into their reality worlds. I can't wait to dive into another Cat Winters read—it's a good thing I have a few waiting for me on my Kindle!
Profile Image for Kate.
178 reviews38 followers
January 31, 2016
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

There is a troubling undercurrent rumbling beneath the surface of the town of Elston, Oregon, and it's particularly troubling for Hanalee Denney, a sixteen-year-old daughter of an African-American man and a white woman. Hanalee's dad Hank was murdered last Christmas by a drunk driver, Joe Adler, and a few months later, Joe is out of jail and back in town. To add to the grief his return is causing Hanalee, the Ku Klux Klan is breeding fear and hatred across Elston in their attempt to "purify" Oregon of everyone who isn't white, Protestant, American-born or heterosexual. Hanalee's friends are abandoning her one by one, and her father's alleged murderer is suddenly claiming that the man who actually killed Hanalee's father is the town doctor who tried to save him and who happens to be Hanalee's new stepfather. Does Hank Denney's ghost, or a "haint" hold the answers Hanalee is so desperate to find? And will she be able to solve the mystery and to cope with the devastating results that she finds?

Readers of my blog probably know by now that I believe that it's impossible for Cat Winters to ever write a bad book. "The Steep and Thorny Way" is definitely her best book to date - and the darkest. I've been known to spend hours in front of a Cat Winters book and finishing in a day. The same happened when I started "The Steep and Thorny Way" - thankfully, it was a weekend so I didn't have to go to work. The novel is gripping. It's devastating. And it's honest and real. The emotions are very, very, real.

Winters' fans know all about her talent to masterrfully convey the atmosphere of a setting in writing, and in "TSaTW" the reader can't help but feel as though they are also a part of Elston, Oregon of the 1920s. Unfortunately, that setting has little beauty in it. It is very scary to think about the fact that the travesties described in the novel occurred less than a hundred years ago. Every page is saturated with despair and sadness of those times and thanks to Winters' writing talent, the reader feels them as much as the characters. Hanalee, Joe and their families are devastated by what is happening in their town, but they are the kinds of characters that don't give up. Hanalee, for instance, is fully aware that there are few good things awaiting her in the future if she stays in Elston, but it doesn't deter her from pursuing her dreams of becoming a lawyer. She is kind, smart and compassionate, despite all the atrocities American laws and Elston society put her through on a daily basis.

The novel is marketed as a retelling of "Hamlet" - one of my favourite works of Shakespeare. In a way, it is - you can see it in certain passages and characters. And of course, the murder most foul of the novel initially seems to parallel that of "Hamlet". However, nothing is ever what it seems in Cat Winters' books, and "TSaTW" is no exception. Given the setting, I knew that the solution to the mystery was not going to be a happy one - plus "Hamlet" is a tragedy for a reason. It was, however, nothing I expected it would be and all the more devastating for it. Winters uses paranormal elements as plot devices quite a few times in her books, but they are only there to further highlight the devastation and the hatred that was a big part of those times. "The Steep and Thorny Way" uses these scary elements in a manner similar to "Hamlet", but other than that, the fear we feel in this book comes from the villains that were very real. There is little need for additional fantasy elements - history provides us with enough source material for antagonists. Hanalee and Joe are in constant danger because of who they are - a biracial girl and a homosexual young man. Ku Klux Klan, eugenics and general prejudices not only prevent Hanalee and Joe from living carefree lives, but they make them constantly fear for their very lives. Things are somewhat better today than they were back then, but diseases like racism, xenophobia and homophobia are unfortunately still a very big part of our society. And this is why we need diverse books like "The Steep and Thorny Way" - to remind us that these disgusting things occurred not so long ago and that prejudice and discrimination are something to be fought on a daily basis.

"The Steep and Thorny Way" is emotional, gripping and absolutely amazing. I cannot wait for my next Cat Winters! My rating is 8.5/10. Once again, my only issue with Cat Winters' books is the lack of sequels!
Profile Image for Sabrina.
193 reviews543 followers
March 1, 2016
*Reread so that I could review it fresh in mind. Just as enjoyable the 2nd time!

Short and Sweet:

Cat Winters is one of my favorite authors. Which means my expectations are always high when I begin one of her stories. The Steep and Thorny Way does not disappoint in the least. In fact, there are several reasons it might even be favorite Winters’ book yet! As with all of Cat’s books, The Steep and Thorny way is both a solid piece of historical fiction and a hauntingly good ghost story.

To Elaborate…

Hannalee Denney is a biracial teenager in a small 1920’s Oregon town. Her African-American father was recently murdered by Joe Adder, who just got out of jail and the story begins with Hanalee paying him a visit with a pistol. Unfortunately for Joe, she’s been haunted by the stories that her father’s ghost roams the stretch of highway where Joe’s car struck him the night that he was drinking and driving. So her anger and grief are as fresh as they were the day that he died. Only Joe claims that he was set up and worse, that she’s been living with her daddy’s murderer this whole time- the town physician who treated her father’s injuries the night he died and her widowed, white mother’s new husband, Clyde Koning. Joe tells Hanalee that the KKK are involved and he believes that her stepfather is a member.

Hanalee has not exactly had an easy time with how quickly her mother has moved on and Joe’s claims validate a fear that she’d already considered about the man who married her mother. So of course, being the strong, self-sufficient girl that she is, Hanalee sets out to find the truth. Who killed her father? Joe? Her stepfather? Or could it involve local members of the Ku Klux Klan as Joe claims?

With very few options to aid in her investigation, Hanalee knows that her father’s ghost may be the key to discovering what happened the night that he died. However, she’s also the only person of color in a community quietly festering with racism and no one seems to be interested in helping her. Not that she lets that stop her. Along the way, she discovers so much more than she bargained for. Hanalee also finds a true friend in Joe, the boy she’s blamed all along, and that friendship is a wonderful highlight in The Steep and Thorny Way. It is not a romance, but it is often just as swoony as one. And one of my favorite book relationships to date.

As Hanalee gets closer to the truth, she realizes that her father’s death is far more complicated than she could have imagined. In this small Oregon town, during a time swirling with hate and fear for those who are different, Hanalee will risk everything to uncover the awful truth, even her own life.

Reading this book is like time traveling back to an era that is not quite as different as we’d like to believe. Hate and fear are just as powerful motivators of evil today as they were nearly 100 years ago in Oregon. The Steep and Thorny Way is heavily and intelligently researched, respectfully written and an illuminating and challenging story that I highly recommend! If you’ve enjoyed Winters’ other books, this one will be no exception.

Originally published at The Forest of Words and Pages
Profile Image for Kristen.
436 reviews547 followers
March 23, 2016
This and other reviews are on my site, My Friends Are Fiction

My Thoughts:
If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know that I adore Cat Winters’ writing style and each of her books really resonates and impacts me emotionally. This one was no different.

I wasn’t all that sure what to expect about this book going in because I honestly didn’t read the summary prior to requesting it. All I needed to know was that Winters wrote it. I was surprised and impressed with the social issues that were looked into and the way that, though immense emotion was present, the novel didn’t feel like it was telling me how to believe. It was an honest character study in a period of time rife with prejudice and judgment.

My heart ached for the struggles these characters had to deal with and the amount of hate directed at them. Though the setting was historical I think we can draw comparisons to our current day. The way Winters approached her characters was so refreshing and lent itself to honest understanding and empathy from the reader.

My favorite aspect of this novel was how strong Hanalee was. And, though I really don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of the time period or what Hanalee was going through, I was able to relate on a deep level.

Winters always impresses me with her ability to delve into a setting, time period and her characters. You can always tell that there has been a lot of research and study going into these books. I felt that Winters portrayed these characters beautifully and really gave them a voice.

Beyond the amazing characters, most of which were truly well rounded, the elements that mirrored Hamlet were very well done. I had to brush up on Hamlet since it had been ages since I’d read it but once I sparked my memories I was easily able to see how TSaTW took some of these elements and twisted them into the book. Such as, a lonely ghost seeking to explain his death, mixed up identities and motives, and the journey of a child trying to understand her father’s demise.

As with all of Winters’ books the writing was impeccable though I found the pacing in this one to be a tad slower than her other novels. The paranormal elements were also less pronounce but still very present and integral to the storyline.

Final Thoughts:
Once again Cat Winters has written a book that had me thinking about its message long after finishing the novel. The writing, characters and research of the time period and people was impeccable-as always.
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