From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-"Today I embark on a great journey." This initial, optimistic entry in a 15-year-old orphan's journal exemplifies the Donner Party's hopes for a new and better life in California. Although he knows that James Reed and George Donner lack experience in such an endeavor as a trek west, Deeds believes in the men. He describes the many difficulties encountered on the journey, including river crossings, poor roads, and fear of Native Americans. Little by little, the hardships increase-members of the group die from illness or injury, and the number of wagons dwindles. The decision to use the Hasting "shortcut" proves deadly. Trapped in the snow and facing starvation, the Donner Party is transformed from a group of cooperative and generous people into one plagued by suspicion and selfishness, resorting even to cannibalism (no graphic details). In the epilogue, readers are told that Deeds and his friend Edward Breen were among the first to discover gold in California. Using actual events and characters, this fictional journal brings a tragic story to life, showing the changes in people brought about by incredible hardships. A selection of archival photographs is included.
Lana Miles, Duchesne Academy, Houston, TX
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 5-7. Using the diary format the My Name Is America series is known for, Philbrick recreates the events of the ill-fated Donner party through the eyes of Douglas Deeds, a 15-year-old orphan. Deeds recounts the jockeying for power between greenhorn organizers George Donner and James Reed; the leaders' dogmatic reliance on a poorly researched travel guide; and the series of bad decisions that culminated in the group's being stranded without food for the winter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Philbrick shows the action rather than merely telling about it, but he deals discreetly with the issue of cannibalism, sending Douglas off crying into the forest as the others prepare to "take advantage of what has been provided." What has taken place will still be clear to most readers. This is historical fiction that will spark discussions about both ethics and leadership. Kay WeismanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved