Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie
by Kristiana Gregory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Across the Wide Prairie (Oregon Trail) / 0-590-22651-7
I love Oregon Trail stories, probably as a remnant of my childhood obsession over the video game series of the same name. I couldn't wait to read this installment of the Dear America series.
The Dear America formula works very well here. The diary format is well-suited to a long journey, and fits realistically here as the main character sits down by the fire at the end of the evening to record the days' experiences. The day-to-day account is gripping and never boring, as Hattie details the hardships of the trail, the various illnesses and weddings along the way, hazardous river crossings, genuine concerns over food and supplies, and other gripping details. The author tends to provide a 'fair and balanced' view of the world around the settlers, and treats American Indians with relative fairness and somewhat lavishly describes the Mormon settlers to Utah as fundamentally decent people looking for their niche in the world.
Somewhat frustratingly, however, all the adults here are morons. The parents and friends of the author are all sensible, caring adults but they all act so foolishly as to not deserve to make it to Oregon. To provide conflict, the author has provided us with an elderly couple plagued with grief-inflicted kleptomania. The adults are aware that the elderly woman is stealing supplies, clothes, and so on, but choose not to embarrass the poor woman in the name of 'Christian charity'. This is a classic case of a modern American author failing to see things from a historical perspective - when a stranger steals your child's sweater and your cooking pot, that means that your child catches cold and dies and you don't eat that night. People didn't exactly own five of everything, and certainly not when traveling cross-country. The parents are also so insipidly stupid as to let their children play with guns and explosives, and several nameless children die as a result.
However, none of these points detract from the book as a fun and educational book for children, though as an adult reader it may cause a wince or two on your part.
~ Ana Mardoll
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