In the north woods of 1899 Minnesota, young teens Ben and Nevers, both white, become the assistants to a quirky German immigrant, log-drive cook Sard, in this sequel to Blackwater Ben (2003).
The Durbins have a knack for realistically depicting life on a rugged frontier and the many dangers of driving millions of board feet of logs down rivers to sawmills, an annual event in 19th- and early-20th-century America. After Ben’s father, a logging-camp cook, quits in order to court a local woman, one-eyed Sard steps in. He has his own ideas of how the wanigan (cook boat) should be run, leaving the boys to adapt to his unusual practices as they also try to learn how to spit raisins accurately and stay astride logs moving down the river. The latter activity almost ends in tragedy when Nevers gets caught in the current of a dangerous sluice-dam chute. Several of the log drivers are vividly depicted and fully come to life, adding additional believability to an already effectively atmospheric tale. Many of the boys’ experiences are everyday ones, but they are nonetheless unique to readers unfamiliar with the unusual setting. Fans of Gary Paulsen will enjoy immersing themselves in a grand adventure. A long, informative afterword provides additional historic context.
Fine historical fiction that will successfully transport readers into an out-of-the-ordinary time and place. (Historical fiction. 10-14)