cover image Answer Creek

Answer Creek

Ashley E. Sweeney. She Writes, $16.95 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-63152-844-6

Sweeney (Eliza Waite) returns with a florid fictional saga of the Donner Party. Tall, intelligent Ada Weeks is a 19-year-old orphan from Indiana on a wagon train from Independence, Mo., to Sutter’s Fort, Calif., in 1846. Ada’s hardiness, cooperative spirit, and medical know-how (acquired from her adoptive father, an undertaker) come in handy on the trail, and she looks after the children while the parents cook and gather fuel. She also starts up an affair with Patrick Dolan, an Irish teamster, and the two plan to marry. Sweeney’s character-driven and painstakingly researched coming-of-age story recounts the party’s daily exhausting struggles before reaching the ill-fated Truckee Lake east of the Sierras in California, where Ada spends the winter snowbound and starving, while those at other camps eventually resort to cannibalism. The author conveys the squalor of the cross-continental migration with frank descriptions of bodily functions, sex, and cannibalism in ways decidedly not for the squeamish. Ada is an impressive heroine who thinks for herself and exhibits moral courage in dire straits, and she chooses to eat glue, leather, and blankets rather than human flesh while pining for Patrick, who took a different route through the mountains. This succeeds at capturing the endurance of the human spirit. (May)