Told in riveting, keenly observed poetry, a moving first-person narrative as experienced by a young survivor of the tragic Donner Party of 1846.
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.
About the Author
Skila Brown has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the novel Caminar and the picture book Slickety Quick: Poems about Sharks, illustrated by Bob Kolar. Skila Brown lives in Indiana with her husband and their three children.
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...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. —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this compelling verse novel, Brown (Caminar, rev. 3/14) imagines the Don- ner Party’s harrowing survival tale as experienced by nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves, a real-life member of the expedition...fascinating back matter (including a pho- tograph of Mary Ann taken thirty years after the book’s events) fills in historical details and separates fact from fiction. A nuanced and haunting portrayal of the indomitable human spirit. —Horn Book (starred review)
Across four seasons, Brown uses words and form effectively to evoke the hopeful idealism, love, joy, and life-or-death terror they feel along the way...A solid introduction to a somber episode in American history. —Kirkus Reviews
This is a well-crafted narrative in which readers get to know and empathize with Mary Ann as her adventure shifts to survival...History and ethics teachers may want to consider this title for discussion with mature middle schoolers and high schoolers. —School Library Journal
Brown assumes the voice of 19-year-old Mary Ann Graves, nimbly straddling the unfathomably harsh realities of travel, starvation, and bloodshed through the imagined musings of a headstrong girl entranced by quilts, birds, and the beauty of the moon. With her refreshingly varied form and ever-earnest tone, Brown weaves a compelling story of suffering, sacrifice, and survival. —Booklist
In Brown’s lyrical novel in verse, Mary Ann is the ideal narrator for the imminent tragedy...[her] reticence to discuss in clinical detail how their party was forced to obtain nourishment is realistic, making this a tale of brave sacrifice rather than a historical horror story...Readers of Wolf ’s Titanic verse novel The Watch That Ends the Night (BCCB 10/11) will find this portrayal of tragedy equally moving. —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
This would be a good choice for a fiction/nonfiction pairing in a study of the settling of the American West. —School Library Connection
Riveting, sensitive, and conveying tremendous courage perseverance, and the will to live, this work of historical fiction is outstanding in every regard. —Day (syndicated from Kendal Rautzhan "Books to Borrow"