LETTERS FROM YELLOWSTONE by Diane Smith

LETTERS FROM YELLOWSTONE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A colorful and credible first novel, by science/environment writer Smith, takes an epistolary approach to a tale of a budding young naturalist who’s invited to join a Smithsonian-backed expedition to Yellowstone in the summer of 1898, but who first has to overcome the dismay of her colleagues when they discover their naturalist is a woman. Although the initial correspondence between A.E. Bartram and the expedition leader, Montana college professor Merriam, is cordial and professional, the first sight of Alex (short for Alexandria) after she arrives in Yellowstone gives rise to a different dynamic. The mild-mannered, bespectacled Merriam hems and haws about what to do with her. Then, knowing how desperately shorthanded his expedition is, he decides to let her come along’secretly hoping she’ll soon call it quits herself. Alex quickly proves her competence, with a degree of scientific rigor easily exceeding Merriam’s own, yet her independence precipitates the team’s first crisis: she goes in search of specimens one day without telling anyone where she’s headed, so that when a spring snowstorm envelops them all, Merriam goes to her rescue. Then, however, he tumbles off a cliff and needs her to keep him alive. Other trials involve another member of the team, a brandy-soused meteorologist who prefers the park’s hotels to the outdoors, and Alex’s mentor and fiancÇ, a Cornell biology professor, who is sent by the young woman’s parents to Montana to bring her home. The fiancÇ, unable to adjust to Alex’s new free-spirited behavior, soon goes back east alone, and Alex finds herself changing even more, confronted with Merriam’s broader view of science and his obvious respect for the herbal knowledge of his Crow Indian assistant. A warm, satisfying story. Despite repetition from overlapping correspondence and rather conventional plot twists, the magic of a Yellowstone summer shimmers here enticingly.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-88631-9
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999




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