Book Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

News of the World is a well spun tale that takes place in Texas in the 1870s. It’s the story of Captain Jefferson Kidd, who is hired to return 10-year-old Johanna to her relatives upon her liberation from the Kiowa. Johanna has lived with the Kiowa people for four years and has completely adopted their ways and their language, creating several challenges for CPT Kidd as he tries to safely escort her several hundred miles across the still very wild Texas countryside.

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First, a News of the World summary:

CPT Kidd is a distinguished, old widower who makes a living traveling to smaller towns and doing public readings from newspapers about world events. It’s a job that seemed to satisfy the wanderlust he felt upon the death of his wife. But his life is lacking some purpose until he is hired to take Johanna back to her aunt and uncle. Although he is originally wary of the feral girl, the two begin to form a bond despite lacking a common language or culture. This bond is made possible by the basic human decency both characters have.

Adversity also helps build the bond between Johanna and CPT Kidd. Texas was wild and sometimes lawless in the 1870s. Traveling on a horse drawn wagon through unsettled countryside was physically challenging and made even worse by the raiding parties that would frequently attack travelers. Johanna and CPT Kidd faced and fought their share of bad guys and it brought them closer together.

Thankfully, they also met some good people during their journey. And that’s why I really liked this book. To me, it was a story about human goodness. It was an example of how two strangers, far apart in age and not even speaking a common language, can be decent and caring to each other. It’s a great message!

Okay, now I’d like to hear your opinions about News of the World. If you’re having a hard getting started, try answering these questions (my responses are in parentheses):

1. What connects Kidd to Johanna? Why does she seem to trust him so easily? (Children are often good judges of character. CPT Kidd had age and personal dignity on his side. I think both helped him come across as trustworthy. )

2. Ten-year-old Johanna made buckshot out of dimes and slaughtered a couple of chickens so they could be eaten. What useful skills did you have when you were ten? (I could wiggle my ears and I played a fierce game of Red Rover. )

3. If you were transported back to 1870s Texas, what modern amenity would you miss the most? (Hot showers. And air conditioning. And text messaging. Wait, I can only pick one?)

Actually, it would be fun if everyone answered those questions. What do you think?

Overall, I highly recommend News of the World for its positive message and historical context.

For another great (but darker) historical fiction book from Paulette Jiles, check out my review of Enemy Women.

17 thoughts on “Book Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

  1. I loved this book – from the time period it was written in to the way it was written. I won’t forget the way Johanna called him “Kep-dun”. It took me a bit to understand “Captain”.
    1. I think Johanna cautiously watched him at first and then decided he was a good man – plus he looked like a grandfather.
    2. I think at 10 years old I could ride a bike, swim, dress my brothers up like girls and build a nice snow fort.
    3. I would miss showers, CARS and A/C. Also grocery stores. I’ve tried gardening. If I had to live off the land I would starve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting, Kelly. The kep-dun thing really stayed with me, too. There were parts of the book where the author used kep-dun very poignantly and it brought tears to my eyes. I agree with you about grocery stores. The only “food” I’ve ever managed to grow was basil and a person can only eat so much pesto!


  2. I really loved this book and I’m grateful to you for recommending it. It warmed my heart, plus I love westerns. I’ve never participated in a book club or even left a book review, but I’ll see if I can answer your questions.

    I think Johanna could sense the honor and integrity in Kidd. He had experience on his side, both with fighting the good fight and being loyal to those he cared about. She was safe with him. Especially once they fought together, they were bonded, for sure.

    We have a jar of coins in our house that gets constantly more full. Good to know we can possibly defend ourselves, if need be. 😉 Let’s see… when I was ten? I had a better sense of direction back then and knew my urban environment by heart; now I can’t manage without directions from my phone.

    Which leads me to #3: which, isn’t my phone, to be honest (whole family is addicted to the darn things, and I try to put mine away at least once a week). I’d have to say the wide selection of foodstuffs from the groceries on every other corner. All that fresh produce is something I’d rather not try and live without!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this book several months ago and enjoyed it. I too like to read Westerns and other books about earlier times. comment for #1 is I think Johanna saw maturity and strength in Kidd. #2 I was on my own most of the time as my father had died a couple of years earlier and my mother was working to support myself and brother. #3 I would miss the availability of a wide variety of books. I have been a library user from childhood and would not like to have to rely on newspapers weeks old as my only source of literature. I, too would find it hard to limit my responses to one as I would really dislike having to wash clothes on a scrub board, cook without my microwave and gas stove, live without air conditioning in summer and heated houses in winter, on and on. We have so many modern conveniences that make our lives much easier in comparison.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comments, Cheryle. I’ve recently found myself enjoying books about earlier times, as well. There is much to admire about how people persisted and thrived without our modern conveniences. I suppose I could have done it but I would have been cranky about the whole thing.


      • I know I may not have had the stamina or courage that many women who ventured West in the 1800’s must have had. They endured many hardships and did without for years to follow a dream. I guess I am spoiled by our consumerism of the day and like my creature comforts, but if I did not know any better or been exposed to them I may have tried what they did. Not sure.


  4. The first few chapters of the book, I had a bit of trouble with the author’s style of not using quotation marks. My daughter, Sarah, looked up the reason why Ms. Giles does this, and I’ll let you do the same (too long an explanation!) After awhile I was used to the flow and thoroughly enjoyed the story, imagining myself in the company of the Captain and Johanna and clearly picturing the scenes.

    The Captain was on a mission of peace with his work and I believe Johanna grew to trust him due to his gentleness and patience. His experience in life enabled him to slowly and lovingly understand her perspective and accept it, regardless of how irrational it seemed to others.

    As for myself at age ten, I had the fortune of living up the street from a state forest and remember loving my time damming up the creek and exploring the trails with my sister and neighborhood friends. I also climbed giants trees in the backyard, formed secret clubs and was ready to take on any enemies who came our way. Of course, it was all in fun. I can’t imagine having to deal with real threats and enemies the way Johanna did. I also didn’t learn to cook until my twenties!

    It’s hard to imagine being without so many of my modern comforts. I think after coming home from many camping trips, I’d have to say my faucets with as much water as I need are the things I most appreciate.


    • The lack of quotation marks definitely took some getting used to. I didn’t know how to cook until I was in my twenties, either. Hmm. Poor mom didn’t want to fight that fight.


  5. I am so grateful to you for recommending this book — I really enjoyed it. I especially liked that it was two people who appeared to society to be weak (a young child and oldish man) but were, in fact, very strong. As you mentioned, the “personal dignity” is the characteristic that tied them together — they were quiet, matter-of-fact and looked out for each other.

    At 10 I liked walking on homemade stilts. I would miss the washing machine if I was sent back in time — I think grateful thoughts every time I put clothes in!!


  6. My favorite book that I’ve yet read in 2017! And I keep asking myself, what was it about this book that made it so special? I think a large part of it was the time period in which it was set – US westward expansion; the wild, wild west; lawlessness in Texas; oh, yeah, and then the fear of Indian attacks. In my mind, this makes for a very unsettled, fearful time. Yet in this time, the story centers around the Captain, a mild, calm, simple man of character and humility. He is compassionate and caring even when he doesn’t have to be.

    And what makes this book more special to me is that the author chooses to use a prose that reflects the same – not flowery, not overly wordy – just basic and straight forward. The message is conveyed directly and with little emotion yet it is extremely powerful. It probably also helped that when reading this book, the author’s style reminded me of two of my favorite authors – Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway.

    What special skills did I have at 10? Heck, I’m still looking for a special skill that I may have now at 51…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about her style of prose. It really suited the story and her characters. I would say knowing how to fly a helicopter is a pretty special skill, although it wouldn’t have done you any good in the wild west.:-)


  7. I agree with everything that has been written so far. This was another great book recommendation. You are batting 100% with me. My only criticism of the book is that it was too short! I felt it kind of ended and that the epilogue could have been the second half of the book or a new book. I was curious to see how Johanna adjusted to marriage and would have liked to follow her adventures as she traveled with her husband. The endearing thing about this tale was the heartbreak of little Johanna as she had been snatched from the only world she knew – not once, but twice! I also like that the author explained at the end that most children “rescued” from native americans – continued to prefer that way of life even if they had only been living it for a short while. I think I too would have preferred to be in a tight-knit group and lived in nature with horses to ride than in the towns (and some of the people) described in the book. As for the questions, 1) the Kap-dun was a great, civilized gentleman in a wild world. And I think he was so unlike many of the other people she met that Johanna felt his human decency instinctively. The friends and acquaintances he had were varied and were also kind to Johanna. Because he had raised two daughters, he certainly understood and liked girls and knew how to be a good parent. Like Johanna, he also had experienced loss – the death of his wife and his physical distance from his family. He also understood another culture since his wife was apparently from an aristocratic Spanish (Mexican?) family. 2) Johanna’s talents far surpassed those of any 10 years olds’ I have ever met!! I will never forget the scene where she uses the dimes to make ammunition and saves both of their lives. It showed an ability to think outside the box when it came to survival! My talents at ten? Zero. It is surprising that I even survived past 10! I spent a lot of time in the woods as a child and wandered for miles without fear or supervision, but I did a lot of dumb things. Name one? Ok, I used to walk out on a railroad trestle and sit with my legs dangling 100 feet over the “holler” pretending to be whatever made up story was playing in my head. I learned only years later that trains still used the track and that my belief that it was abandoned was quite wrong. 3) I love old western stories and since my daughter has recently moved to Montana, I am looking to read even more of them. Cormac McCarthy is one favorite and the Lonesome Dove books are another. Also, Mary Doria Russell’s “Doc.” Because of this, It is easy for me to choose the thing I would miss the most – hot and cold running water!!! No contest. I feel physically uncomfortable even reading about people going for days or weeks without a bath and looking for water to drink. Thanks so much for this book suggestion.


  8. I also agree with what everyone has said. This is a great book, but too short! I enjoy reading books where the characters do the right thing even when it’s difficult. Cormac McCarthy is a favorite of mine, and I’m rereading True Grit. The dignity of the captain stays with me,as well as his job of reading the paper to isolated communities. I think Johanna sensed his strength and kindness. At ten I was riding my bike by the river in town, reading books, and singing songs under the water tower with my 5th grade class while our teacher played the banjo. A great year. If I had lived as a pioneer I would have most missed good shoes and the orthotics I need to wear in them, plus hot showers!


  9. Pingback: “Enemy Women”, by Paulette Jiles | Book Thoughts from Bed

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