Reading this book made me realize how FRIGGIN' SHELTERED my life has been. To me, Winter's Bone reads just like a nightmarish dystopia. To millions of people, apparently, it's life. Ree Dolly is incredibly tough and hardened by life - much more than you'd expect from a sixteen-year-old girl. "She could be beat with a garden rake and never cry and had proved that twice before Mamaw saw an unsmiling angel pointing from the treetops at dusk and quit the bottle. She would never cry where her tears might be seen and counted against her." Unlike other lauded "tough" heroines in the recent literature, her toughness is not in the "leave me the hell alone" variety of Lisbeth Salander or grumpy variety of Katniss Everdeen. Ree is tough in the true survivor way. She has no other choice - she is the oldest child in the Ozarks "bred'n buttered" family of a crystal meth cook father and a mentally unstable near-catatonic mother, with nobody else to care for her two younger brothers. And now she is this close to losing the only thing they own - their home - to the bail bondsman, unless Ree can somehow prove that her allegedly bail-jumping father is dead. And that's not an easy thing to do when the world would rather have you shut up and not ask questions. 'Whatever are we to do about you, baby girl? Huh?''Kill me, I guess.''That idea has been said already. Got'ny other ones?''Help me. Ain't nobody said that idea yet, have they?'But this short novel is not as much about Ree's quest to figure out what happened to her missing father - she and the reader already have a good idea what happened to Jessup Dolly - as it is about showing a fascinating albeit harrowing picture of the cruel, backwards, meth-ruled world of the Ozarks. Ree Dolly lives in a hostile, harsh, and unforgiving world that follows no law but its own. She is surrounded by distant kin members that make up the majority of this rural mountain community. But very soon she learns that blood ties do not always mean much, that there quite a few matters about which her neighbors and relatives would much rather remain tight-lipped. And they will not hesitate to do whatever they feel is necessary to silence the uncomfortable questions, even if they come from a teenage girl. Ree is kind, smart, independent, competent, spirited, and resourceful. However, there is little future for her in this world besides meth-cooking or marry as "required by pregnancy." Ree has been harboring a dream of joining the Army "where you got to travel with a gun and they made everybody help keep things clean", where she finally, for the first time ever, can have "only her own concerns to tote." But we all know - as does Ree - that she has too much heart to do so, even if it means sacrificing her dreams for the sake of others who are her responsibility.For men in Ree's world there seem to be two options - meth and prison. For women it's even less. There is obedience, loveless marriages, violence, and hard work. "The men came to mind as mostly idle between nights of running wild or time in the pen, cooking moon and gathering around the spout, with ears chewed, fingers chopped, arms shot away, and no apologies grunted ever. The women came to mind bigger, closer, with their lonely eyes and homely yellow teeth, mouths clamped against smiles, working in the hot fields from can to can't, hands tattered rough as dry cobs, lips cracked all winter, a white dress for marrying, a black dress for burying."The only thing that being a woman earns for you is that you probably won't be beaten half-dead and bloody by a man (unless he is "your" man, as Ree's little brother notes). But it's little consolation given that the women Ree meets do not lack viciousness. Misogyny is everywhere, and is viewed as a normal part of life. Nobody has much in this world, and women least of all. And if you are half-dead from a beating, and your uncle is about to raise mayhem, you, of course, will be the one to blame."Love and hate hold hands always so it made natural sense that they'd get confused by upset married folk in the wee hours once in a while and a nosebleed or bruised breast might result. But it just seemed proof that a great foulness was afoot in the world when a no-strings roll in the hay with a stranger led to chipped teeth or cigarette burns on the wrist." I found it scarily disturbing that Ree has naturally absorbed and internalized the laws of this bleak harsh place. When we meet her, she has an unusually strong moral compass and stubbornness to a boot, but I wonder how long it's going to be before she cracks and submits to the ways of her surroundings. After all, she is also very lonely - with her mother pretty much checked out of this world, and her best friend trapped in a marriage with no love but a little baby, and Ree misses her so very very much.In Ree's heart there was room for more. Any evening spent with Gail was like one of the yearning stories from her sleep was happening awake. Sharing the small simple parts of life with someone who stood tall in her feelings. I hope she finds a way out, I hope she finds a way to keep her awesome self intact, I hope she succeeds in raising her brothers the way she wants to and not the way the society expects them to be. She is definitely strong enough for that, and I hope her spine is indeed made of steel. She will need it to survive.------------------------Wonderful book with one of the best female characters I have seen in a while. It's rather bleak but at the same time has undertones of hope - rooted in Ree's stubborn refusal to give up. 4.5 stars, and feeling thankful that I live where I live - because I sure as hell would NOT be able to survive in Ree Dolly's world."I ain't leavin' you boys. Why do you think that?''We heard you once, talkin' 'bout the army and places we wouldn't be. Are you wantin' to leave us?''Naw. I'd get lost without the weight of you two on my back.'