cover image The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party

Allan Wolf. Candlewick, $21.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6324-7

In this ambitious novel in verse about the infamous 19th-century expedition, Wolf (The Day the Universe Exploded My Head) accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an evocative and sympathetic rendering of a horrific historical event. Told in eight distinctive voices—with Hunger in the role of omniscient narrator—among them several minor speakers, two children, and two Miwok vaqueros, the book builds in slow, harrowing suspense toward the moment when imminent starvation forces the characters to consider “a final contingency,” that one of their bodies “might deliver the rest from death.” As the original Donner and Reed family members travel west to California from Illinois, they join forces with others, eventually becoming a group of 87 that encounters increasingly difficult conditions and growing hunger, culminating in unexpected early blizzards (“Silent. And soft. And slow”) that strand the party. The individual voices quickly become recognizable, a combined chorus that creates a multidimensional telling of this “catastrophic failure” that haunts the problematic story of western expansion. The rich extensive back matter (including “Native Americans and the Donner Party,” “Reality Checks,” and numerous statistics) adds historical context and factual clarity to this arresting saga. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)