Adding details about events and people to an account of Mary Ellen Todd’s 2,000-mile trek from Arkansas to Oregon in the 1850s as written down by Todd’s daughter, Van Leeuwen has created a fact-based novel told in the voice of a 10-year-old child.
The story begins with the preparations and the difficulty of leaving home and family. It chronicles the hardships the family encountered: raging rivers to cross, bad weather, sickness and death, limited food, and the constant push to beat the first snows of winter.
There are also small pleasures, including the birth of a brother. Readers will see how choices made often make the difference between success or failure, life or death. Characterizations are well done, showing the varying personalities of people on the trail. For example, the determination and faith of the father are shown consistently as the basis for his actions.
This is a convincing picture of a pioneer journey that does a good job of showing the tremendous sacrifices people made to follow their dream of a better life.