Buffalo Flats by Martine Leavitt

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Buffalo Flats takes readers to the Northwest Territory of Canada, for an unforgettable story of spiritual growth and romance.

The post Buffalo Flats by Martine Leavitt appeared first on Redeemed Reader.

Buffalo Flats takes readers to the Northwest Territory of Canada, for an unforgettable story of spiritual growth and romance.

Buffalo Flats by Martine Leavitt. Margaret Ferguson Books (Holiday House), 2023, 227 pages.

Buffalo flats

Reading Level: Teen, 12-15

Recommended for: ages 15-up

A propitious meeting

Rebecca Leavitt’s life changed the day she met God, on “one warm spring evening, sitting on the tor overlooking Buffalo Flats.” Of course he knew her; what’s perhaps more surprising is that she recognized him. Maybe it was his unearthly serenity, looking out over his own creation. Their conversation was nothing out of the ordinary as they soaked in the stern beauty of the Rocky Mountains looming over placid prairies.

But Rebecca is altered after their meeting in two important ways: one, she is convicted that God expects her to “Love the World”—not just the mountains, but the people. Two, she is determined to own that piece of ground where they met, even though it’s not fitting in her LDS community for a single woman to own land. Or even to remain single by choice. But Rebecca is a girl of rare determination, and she’s determined to own her experience as much as the land. “I own this rock, and I won the thing that happened to me. It is mine.” Without that claim on both the transcendent and the immanent, the spiritual and the concrete, her life was a vapor, “a thin floating thing like a cloud.”

The land is available for purchase, but their neighbor Coby Webster has preemptive right to it. Coby might be persuadable, but Rebecca first has to scrape up the funds. As the year unfolds, she collects eggs, helps her mother deliver babies, covertly milks the cow their unpleasant neighbor allows to graze on their land, plants potatoes, attends weddings, attends funerals, survives floods and blizzards, fights with her brothers, flirts with Levi Howard, and seriously considers Coby—all while saving money and learning the painful lessons of Loving the World and the people in it. The conclusion will come as no surprise to an astute reader, but getting there is entertaining, instructive, and often enthralling.

Oh Pioneers

The author drew from the experience of her husband’s great-grandfather, who migrated from Utah to the Northwest Territories of Canada, a harsh, cold, and beautiful land. Some of those early settlers had multiple wives, a circumstance not addressed in Buffalo Flats. Nor is LDS theology, such as the doctrine that God the Father has a physical body. That would make sense of Rebecca encountering him on the tor (I had to look that up; it’s a free-standing rock outcrop), but it contrasts sharply with biblical encounters like Jacob’s and Elijah’s. Readers may also detect a hint of works-righteousness in Rebecca’s struggles to be good.

Still, the beautiful language and the strong sense of the glory of ordinary life is a refreshing breeze in a pile of confrontational YA fiction. Rebecca’s mother is an outstanding example of feminine strength: though an expert with a shotgun, she doesn’t have to arm-wrestle her way to respectability. She supports her daughter quietly and stands her ground when necessary, but without disdaining her husband. She helps him be strong when he’s inclined to be weak, and lets her virtue speak for itself. Rebecca herself has admirable qualities mixed in with the rougher ones, and with her mother as a role model she’ll turn out just fine.

Though it’s more likely to be enjoyed by girls, young men will find another admirable role model in Coby, who’s strong but not aggressive, judicious but not overbearing, accommodating but not a pushover. The vivid depictions of pioneer life should give young readers an appreciation for what their forebears accomplished—Martine Leavitt clearly has that appreciation, as well as a perceptive observance of human nature.

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Artistic/literary value: 5  

Read more about our ratings here.

Also at Redeemed Reader:

Review: We loved Leavitt’s earlier novel, Calvin (starred review).

Reviews: The classic Caddie Woodlawn and the more recent Hattie Big Sky are more frontier stories based on the actual experience of the authors’ ancestors.

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