An evenhanded, informative account of an American catastrophe.



Herman’s first historical novel tells the true story of 13-year-old Virginia Reed, a member of the ill-fated Donner Party.

From the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, this well-written book follows the infamous Donner party while eschewing sensationalism about cannibalism and instead conveying the harsh reality of catching mice and cutting pieces from canvas roofs to boil for “food.” Nothing—food, water, shelter, life—was guaranteed, yet author Herman uses an even, almost understated style to make the trip seem natural to modern readers. She details Virginia’s gradual disillusionment with both the trip and the adults in charge, as they make fateful decisions on a trip that begins with picnics and rock-climbing and ends with starvation and death. The extremely well-researched book contains real tidbits—such as starving a Mrs. Reed signing a paper that forces her to pay double for two cattle so she’ll have food for her and her children—that add to the story’s harrowing realism. In particular, Herman demonstrates how the party, on its way from Illinois to California, was misled by a Pied Piper–type character named Lansford W. Hastings, whose exaggerations and misinformation led to the wagon train’s misfortunes and sealed the passengers’ fate. All of the darkness of the human soul is on display here, as when the wagon train turns on Virginia’s father, comes close to hanging him, and then cruelly kicks him out of the camp and into the desolate wilderness. Readers might be under the assumption that people were nicer “in the good old days,” but watching men and women scheme to turn a desperate situation to their own advantage—while knowing that it means certain death for others—is a sobering reminder that savagery has always traveled with us. By illuminating the party’s incredible tragedy through the sorrowful eyes of a young girl, Herman shines a bright, ominous light that will never go out.

An evenhanded, informative account of an American catastrophe.   

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490317793

Page Count: 236

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2014

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Pub Date: March 31, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-028454-4

Page Count: 250

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1999

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In the My Name Is America series, Durbin (Wintering, 1999, etc.) offers the story of Sean Sullivan, whose first day in Omaha, Nebraska, brings him face to face with a victim of an Indian attack; the man survived, but carries his bloody scalp in a bucket. It’s August 1897, and Sean has just arrived from Chicago, planning to work with his father on the Intercontinental Railroad. Pa, who carries terrible memories of his stint in the Civil War and of the death three years ago of Sean’s mother, is already a foreman for the railroad, but Sean must start at the bottom, as a water carrier, toting barrels of it to the thirsty men who are doing the back-breaking work on the line. At night, everyone is usually too tired to do anything but sleep, but Sundays are free, and Sean discovers the rough and rowdy world of the towns that seem to sprout up from nowhere along the railroad’s path over the prairie. Through Sean’s eyes, the history of this era and the magnitude of his and his fellow workers’ achievements come alive; Durbin has no trouble making Sean’s world palpable, and readers will slog along with Sean every step of the way on his long and arduous journey to building a railroad and becoming a man. (b&w maps, photos, reproductions) (Fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-439-04994-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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