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An old-fashioned debut novel told in a series of journal entries and letters written in the unpretentious, homespun language one would expect of an 18-year-old Missouri farm girl recording her experiences on a wagon train in 1859. The Wade family--Callie, her widowed father, and her brother Jack--migrate west in search of a healthier climate for Rose, a consumptive younger sister. Grieving the loss of her home and fearing that her memories will not be enough to preserve her past, Callie is puzzled that Jack and Pa seem so unaffected. She remarks in her journal that to men ""a home was no more than where they ate or slept."" The different reactions of men and women to the westering experience is an ongoing theme here, with Miller continuing to contrast Callie's behavior and emotions with those of Jack and of Quinn McGregor, a young Irish emigrant with a romantic interest in Callie. Quinn has lost his whole family but sees the journey as his turn to carry on their dreams, while the accidental death of Callie's father and the endless graves along the trail only add to the young woman's depression and fear. The resilient and pattern-breaking Grace Hollister, a widow with four children, provides a further contrast. Like Jack and Quinn, Grace sees the West as hope, telling Callie she should ""never look back."" On the other hand, Mrs. Handy, yet another emigrant, hides in her wagon and professes to be glad her infant died shortly after its birth. She has lost all hope. Despite an occasional lapse into a too-folksy vernacular, Miller's narrative offers a realistic sense of time and place that renders the happy ending less cloying and more believable than it might otherwise have been. A westward-migration historical that's about--well, family values. Could find its niche, perhaps, most naturally as a YA.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 143918304X
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Pocket