News of the World has been a really popular book, and after reading it, I can see why. Paulette Jiles did meticulous research in order to take us on a post-Civil War journey from northern to southern Texas. Captain Kidd, an elderly veteran and widower, has reluctantly agreed to take a young girl (Johanna) to near San Antonio to be reunited with her aunt and uncle. She was taken captive by the Kiowa Indians, and her parents killed, four years previously. The Captain has made a life from traveling around the towns of Texas, getting paid to read newspapers from faraway places to people who have little other communication with the rest of the world. It appears he's made a mistake in agreeing to make the journey with Johanna--she only speaks Kiowa, has completely abandoned the ways of white people, and having been once again wrenched away from the only life she knows, is by turns difficult, sullen, and terrified. Also, Texas at this time is largely lawless, not every stranger along the way proves to be a friend, and the elements themselves, such as flooded rivers, all combine to make for a perilous journey indeed.
I was struck by Jiles' skill in showing the clash between cultures, the difficulties of communicating for the two main characters, and yet what's possible with Johanna's young mind being able to make new connections as well as reach back into the past, and with the Captain's experience and patience. Along the way, the Captain and Johanna find solace in each other's company, fight together to survive, and show that the concept of "family" is not dicated by one's blood.