Sprigle-Adair’s debut YA novel tells the story of a young girl who leaves her home in New York City to make the westward journey in a wagon train with her family.
In 1849, 14-year-old Emelie Grandi is heartbroken at having to join her mother, father and siblings on their move to California. Not only must she say goodbye to her extended family, but also to her sweetheart, Aden. Although her father keeps talking about the opportunities out west and the educational value of the trip, danger and tragedy assail them almost from the outset. Emilie makes an ill-conceived attempt at escape early on, but runs up against a man who has less-than-altruistic intentions. Later, after the family befriends an eccentric widow they call Grandma Bertie, Emelie resigns herself to the journey and slowly begins to enjoy herself. Tragedy is never far off, however, due to violent livestock stampedes, the threat of Indian attacks, and cholera from contaminated water supplies. When Grandma Bertie’s box of valuables is stolen, Emelie is determined to recover it. Then, after a depressed fellow traveler falls into a hysterical state, a dreadful revelation comes to pass. Despite the sorrow and loss, Emelie discovers her own resilience and a new chance at love. All of Sprigle-Adair’s characters are distinctive and intriguing, from the free-spirited Grandma Bertie to the downtrodden Rhyss family, who are fleeing a dead-end existence as miners in Kentucky in order to make a new life for themselves out west. The book’s prose is also lusciously vivid throughout: “Outside choruses of frogs shout accusations, and grasses rustle like whispers.” The novel’s many plot twists and surprises will keep readers turning pages, and the narrative pacing is excellent, right up until the rather abrupt ending.
A captivating read, equally as entertaining as it is educational.