Drawing on memoirs of participants, and concentrating on Nancy Kelsey, a 17-year-old wife and new mother who was the only woman to make the entire trip, Levitin has constructed a fictionalized account of the first wagon train journey from Missouri to California. Heading West is about all the Kelseys and their companions know about reaching the land of oranges and ocean; luckily they make most of the trip with an experienced party of missionaries and their guide. But when the priests head off for Oregon, and with them go many of the original resettlers (including the only other women in the band), the last stragglers plod on, ditching wagons and then mules and oxen, losing horses to Indians and wearing through their shoes, and at last stumble upon an earlier pioneer's fabled ranch--their first inkling that they are ""already there--in Californ-y."" On the trail the travelers have faced quicksand, illness, hunger, dissension; but none of this is dramatized, and in fact there's a disappointing tameness to the whole narrative. Similarly Nancy, despite being ""strong as an ox"" (her husband's boast) and ""spunky"" too, and despite ending the trip with an almost ecstatic love for life and for her husband, comes across as oddly bland.