April 6, 2019


I associate Idaho with several of my cousins who grew up in Eureka, Montana–the “nearby” mid-sized towns included Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, in the panhandle. But Idaho also makes me think of Craters of the Moon National Monument, a volcanic site near the center of the state. And Picabo Street, the Olympic skier, who grew up in Idaho.

Although the panhandle apparently includes about 25% of the area of the state and about 20% of its population, it is divided from the rest of the state by east-west mountains (the Bitterroot Mountains and the Coeur d’Alenes, both part of the Bitterroot Range). It is included in the Pacific time zone, along with Spokane, Washington, rather than the Mountain time zone where the rest of the state resides, despite not being any further west. This made me wonder why the area became a part of Idaho rather than Washington or Montana, but I haven’t found any information about that–if anyone knows, please drop a comment. Maybe that mystery will be cleared up by one of our books for the state!

Here they are:

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1980) – Andrea covered this book for her literary journey, and it is listed in the article that got me started on this blog as the most famous book set in Idaho. It’s not one I’d ever heard of, and I suspect that, for the last year at any rate, Educated by Tara Westover is more famous. But Housekeeping takes place in the panhandle of Idaho, and I’m looking forward to this story about “the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience” (from the Goodreads blurb).

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki (2004) – If all you know about Idaho is potatoes, then here’s the book for you (or me)! We all know “Idaho Potatoes,” right? I’m looking forward to Ozeki’s novel about family and agri-business. Reviewers on Goodreads seem to either love it or hate it, and the main character’s mother has Alzheimer’s, which may be too close to home for me (my mother recently died of complications related to Alzheimer’s), but I’ll give it a try. It takes place in the main part of the state. UPDATE: Momoko’s Alzheimer’s is very much a fictional disease with little emotional impact. I had more trouble with just not really liking the main character Yumi/Yummy. But it was good for our reading challenge.

Borrowed Horses by Sian Griffiths (2013) – While this is ostensibly another book about a woman who returns to her childhood hometown in Idaho to care for her ailing parents, the main character here is an aspiring Olympic equestrian (and the mom has MS). If I find that I can’t handle All Over Creation, this one has the benefit of horses (yes, I was one of those horse-loving girls) and multiple sclerosis–I have several acquaintances who have the disease but it’s not quite so close to home (and we read a bit about it in Sing Them Home while in Nebraska). UPDATE: Despite claiming she came home to care for her mom, Joannie’s parents pretty much refuse her help and are only minor characters in the book. The plot revolves much more around Joannie’s love life and guilt over a high school tragedy. And horses. It’s pretty good for our challenge as well.

The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon by Tom Spanbauer (1992) – This one takes place at the turn of the century, and is a coming-of-age search for identity in the wild west, but with the twist that the main character is half-Indian and bisexual. Given the times, I expect life will not always be kind, but I can’t resist the premise. Shed lives and works at a hotel/brothel in Excellent, Idaho, but goes off in search of his identity and the meaning of his Indian name among his mother’s people, before returning to the tiny town of Excellent.

Buffalo Coat by Carol Ryrie Brink (1993) – If the author’s name looks familiar, you probably read Caddie Woodlawn. I never have, but I did recognize the names (and will add Caddie for Wisconsin). Buffalo Coat was Brink’s first adult book, and is set in Opportunity (a stand-in for Moscow) in the panhandle. It tells the stories of three doctors who come to the town in the 1890s. Reviews indicate there is plenty of bleakness, but wonderful landscape descriptions.

The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher (2005) – This is a ghost story about friendship. And about censorship. Wait… what? Apparently the author has some experience with at least one of these topics. Both the father and the best friend of the main character die in freak accidents, and the narrator is the dead friend. One of the main plot lines is the fight over banning a particular book from the local school library–which parallels a battle over another of the author’s own books (and the author includes himself as a character during the debate). A number of reviews attest that, despite the grim premise, the book is very funny. It’s also my Young Adult choice for Idaho. Crutcher was raised in Idaho and lives in Spokane. The book is set in Bear Creek, Idaho, in the panhandle, just south of the Canadian border.

Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn (1981) – This book ends in Idaho. But it starts in China, and I’m not sure where it stops along the way. I’ll add it as an alternate, but I wanted to include it on my list because it tells the story of a young Chinese woman who is sold into slavery by her family and brought to America in the late 1800s. It’s an important piece of immigrant history, and is a very different voice than the others we have for Idaho.

Girl Imagined by Chance by Lance Olsen (2002) – This one has an interesting premise, examining the ways in which a “white lie” can snowball into an avalanche and have unexpected consequences. It’s also one that incorporates photographs (by Andi Olsen), as we saw recently with The Home Place by Wright Morris when we revisited Nebraska. I’m intrigued, but somewhat concerned about the availability of this title, so I’m making it an alternate.

Coeur d’Alene Waters by Ned Hayes (2013) – This sounds like a gritty modern western murder mystery, which can definitely hit the spot at times. It also sounds like it’s got some great setting descriptions and background, including mines, neo-Nazis, and just plain western grit. Reviews seem spotty, and I’ve got other choices, but I’ll add it as an alternate. The Coeur d’Alene Mountains run through the panhandle.