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DANIEL’S WALK by Michael Spooner

DANIEL’S WALK

By Michael Spooner

Age Range: 12 & up

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8050-6750-7
Publisher: Henry Holt

In 1844, a Voice in the night whispers to Daniel LeBlanc that his father needs help so he leaves his home in Caldwell, Missouri, and joins a wagon train heading for the Oregon Trail. Fourteen-year-old Daniel has been raised by his aunt and uncle after his mother’s death and his father’s disappearance in the West. Daniel is certain that he will be able to find this father he barely knows, a French fur-trapper, but heavy rains and a dangerous, horse-thieving outlaw imperil the wagon train’s progress. He does become friends with a free black man and Rosalie, a young and resourceful half-Mandan girl who likes Shakespeare and beading with quills. When they finally arrive at Fort Laramie after hundreds of back-breaking, wind-blown miles, Daniel wonders whether or not the stockade walls keep out the Oglalas or “simply fence the white folks in”—a ponderous and probably anachronistic thought. When he finds a circle of buffalo skulls, he dreams of great Indian/soldier battles and of a wolf that speaks in the voice of his father. Kidnapped along with Rosalie, Daniel finds himself literally and figuratively in a den of wolves—a gang of white thieves who steal guns from the army and sell them to the Indians. In the violent finale, Daniel learns some truths about his family. His father survived an attack by a rabid wolf, took on its persona and appearance, and is the renegade leader of the gun thieves. The dangerous outlaw who kidnapped him is a member of the gang and his mother’s brother. The story is certainly an adventure and conveys the hardships of the westward trek along with providing an interesting friendship between Rosalie and Daniel. However, Spooner relies too heavily on imagery. Rosalie refers to the uncle in Hamlet as a snake, certainly a precursor to Daniel’s uncle. His father, perhaps too ahead of his time for seeing clearly the destruction of the Indian way of life and trying to forestall it, dies in a fire and causes Daniel to muse about darkness and light in his own life. He emerges a stronger young man from all he has lived through, but the journey is fraught with the perils of deep thinking and the temptations of literary symbolism. (Historical fiction. 12+)