The journey west by wagon train promises to be long and arduous for nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves and her parents and eight siblings. Read more...
The journey west by wagon train promises to be long and arduous for nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves and her parents and eight siblings. Yet she is hopeful about their new life in California: freedom from the demands of family, maybe some romance, better opportunities for all. But when winter comes early to the Sierra Nevada and their group gets a late start, the Graves family, traveling alongside the Donner and Reed parties, must endure one of the most harrowing and storied journeys in American history. Amid the pain of loss and the constant threat of death from starvation or cold, Mary Ann's is a narrative, told beautifully in verse, of a girl learning what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and above all to persevere.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Writing in verse from the fictionalized perspective of Donner Party survivor Mary Ann Graves, Brown (Caminar) chronicles the group’s ill-fated 1,900-mile westward journey to California that began in 1846. Bright-eyed innocence is quickly tempered by hardships on the trek from Illinois—a snake bite, death, and mounting worries—as the trip becomes interminable (“There is no wagon train,/ only families moving together, passing each other by,/ there is no help to be given/ there is only forward”). The cadence of the poems slows, becoming deliberate and labored, as Mary Ann is overcome by exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation, then picks up with ghastly speed as she gorges on raw deer meat in the wilderness. A wayward traveler stumbling through the brush is nearly mistaken for food, foreshadowing the party’s desperate means of survival while stranded in the mountains during a snowstorm. The gravity of the cannibalism, now synonymous with the Donner Party, is treated deftly, conveying Mary Ann’s visceral reactions without becoming steeped in grisly detail. As loss compounds loss, brevity and repetition (“I stitch... I stitch”) intensify key moments in a harrowing, exhausting trek. Ages 10–14. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (Oct.)