By Frances Bonney Jenner
Irie Books, $14.99, 270 pages
Imagine walking from St. Louis to California. Easy, ugh? You’ll do it for a charity, there’ll be photo opportunities and you’ll call friends and family along the way. Restaurants will donate free meals. Hotels will offer a free night’s stay. Then consider doing it in 1850, while moving all your worldly possessions in a wagon pulled by animals that need food and water. Your children, their pets and the cow that will provide milk are also trailing along. You’ll do this with no smart phone, no texting, no car or radio, no hotels, no oven and no refrigerator. This is how author, Frances Bonney Jenner’s American ancestors traveled out West. The trip took over six months and many people walked every step of the way. Jenner herself traveled the same route while researching her book Prairie Journey.
Savannah, an adolescent, says good-bye to her best friend, boards a riverboat for an unknown life in a strange place and pens the story as a narrative journal. Savannah doesn’t leave willingly and doesn’t feel strong enough to handle the difficulties of such a perilous passage. Follow Savannah on her gritty journey and learn about the buffaloes, prairie dogs, lizards and rats that eventually became food, and the almost insurmountable challenges of hoisting a wagon over huge rocks that seem to leap into the sky. Travel with her through a brutal desert that calls for sacrifices of both people and animals.
Sprinkled with Savannah’s poetry, Jenner is an adept storyteller, weaving several sub-plots into the long treacherous trip. Savannah’s actions lead to the development of a genuine character—the sort of person who could survive in such harsh circumstances while others ended up in the many graves which came to mark the trail.
While the book won an award for excellence from the Independent Publishers, I found the cadence of the writing to be hurried (commas abound) and didn’t enjoy the reading as much as I would have liked for a book so rich in history. I wanted a bit of trudging—a few windy sentences—to match the pace of the oxen and tabs for paragraph indents. The formatting is also irregular. However, the writing style may be perfect for today’s “sound bite” youth whose main form of communication is the text message.
Reviewed by Sheli Ellsworth