Dwindling resources, bribery, and corruption—issues as current as this morning's newspaper—mix with optimism in Little Century, Anna Keesey's briskly romantic, nontraditional Western set in central Oregon circa 1900. Told from a pioneer woman's point of view, it's Willa Cather with a sense of humor. Eighteen-year-old Esther arrives in the semicivilized town of Century from Chicago after her mother's death. A greenhorn, she allows her distant cousin Pick to lie about her age so she can homestead a plot of land he tries to control while he spearheads an effort to lure the railroad (and the resulting profits) to town. Naturally our heroine has a crush on handsome, laconically charismatic Pick; so do we, especially when he jokes, "You don't hear of many gunfights nowadays. Nobody's a good enough shot anymore." But when Esther falls head over heels for a young sheepherder, the novel's lighthearted tone darkens: Caught between conflicting loyalties, she undergoes an education in politics and morality as her world erupts in violence. Keesey portrays her men and women as deeply flawed but so achingly vulnerable that it is impossible not to identify with them. As a thief turned teacher says about the man she loves, "Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm tender toward his errors. He is certainly tender toward mine."
— Liza Nelson