Review: Buffalo Flats by Martine Leavitt

Buffalo Flats by Martine Leavitt

Buffalo Flats
Martine Leavitt
Margaret Ferguson Books
Published April 25, 2023

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About Buffalo Flats

Based on true-life histories, BUFFALO FLATS shares the epic, coming-of-age story of Rebecca Leavitt as she searches for her identity in the Northwest Territories of Canada during the late 1800s.

Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Leavitt has traveled by covered wagon from Utah to the Northwest Territories of Canada, where her father and brothers are now homesteading and establishing a new community with other Latter-Day Saints. Rebecca is old enough to get married, but what kind of man would she marry and who would have a girl like her–a girl filled with ideas and opinions? Someone gallant and exciting like Levi Howard? Or a man of ideas like her childhood friend Coby Webster?

Rebecca decides to set her sights on something completely different. She loves the land and wants her own piece of it. When she learns that single women aren’t allowed to homestead, her father agrees to buy her land outright, as long as Rebecca earns the money –480 dollars, an impossible sum. She sets out to earn the money while surviving the relentless challenges of pioneer life–the ones that Mother Nature throws at her in the form of blizzards, grizzles, influenza, and floods, and the ones that come with human nature, be they exasperating neighbors or the breathtaking frailty of life.

BUFFALO FLATS is inspired by true-life histories of the author’s ancestors. It is an extraordinary novel that explores Latter-Day Saints culture and the hardships of pioneer life. It is about a stubborn, irreverent, and resourceful young woman who remains true to herself and discovers that it is the bonds of family, faith, and friendship–even romance–that tie her to the wild and unpredictable land she loves so fiercely.

Buffalo Flats on Goodreads

My Review

While I liked the pioneering life on the prairie elements of this story, its true genius is in Rebecca’s voice. She’s quick-witted and wry and has big dreams. Her mother nurtures those dreams and makes space for Rebecca to figure out who she is and how to achieve her goals.

The author notes that though certain events in the book come from her huband’s family history, many things were left out or changed. For example, the relative who left Utah for the Northern Territories left one wife behind on his land and took another with him. Though the book explores other aspects of Latter-Day Saints culture, it does not delve into plural marriages, which were legal at the time.

Rebecca faces hardship as a young unmarried woman in her community as well. When she goes to inquire about purchasing land, she learns that legally she doesn’t qualify as a person, so she isn’t eligible to purchase it on her own. Her father or another man could buy the land for ten dollars and “prove up” or develop it, but for her father to even purchase the land and add her name to the deed, he must buy it outright for nearly five hundred dollars.

Another young woman in the community believes in women’s rights, and Rebecca finds comfort in a friendship with her. Rebecca’s parents argue over doctrine about whether her father gets to make decisions about the family unilaterally. So, the story focuses a lot on women’s rights and women making space for themselves in a patriarchal community.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book, especially Rebecca’s strong, engaging voice. I wasn’t familiar with this author’s work before picking up this book. I will definitely read more of her books. If you’re looking for a light historical romance, especially for a reader transitioning to young adult fiction, this one would be a great fit.

Buffalo Flats on Bookshop

Content Notes for Buffalo Flats

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Major characters are white and members of the Mormon faith community.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used a few times.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. A girl gets unexpectedly pregnant while unmarried. She says she only made one “mistake.” During her pregnancy, her family keeps her at home, but after the baby is born, the community seems to rally around her again.

Spiritual Content
References to prayer, attending church, and reading religious texts. The faith community faces some prejudice from others who worry that the Mormons plan to take over the area.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Mentions of domestic violence. Rebecca’s family discovers that a neighbor abuses his wife. A man attacks two women with a whip. A woman shoots a man in the leg.

Also mentions of caring for the sick and assisting with childbirth. In one scene, a baby is stillborn. Not violence, but might make sensitive readers uncomfortable.

Drug Content
A man who routinely chews tobacco is described as having brown teeth and black insides of his mouth. Brief mention of a man who gets drunk.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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