ALL WE LEFT BEHIND by Nancy Herman


Virginia Reed and the Donner Party
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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. 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1490317793
Page count: 236pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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