To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party

Skila Brown. Candlewick, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7811-1
Writing in verse from the fictionalized perspective of Donner Party survivor Mary Ann Graves, Brown (Caminar) chronicles the group’s ill-fated 1,900-mile westward journey to California that began in 1846. Bright-eyed innocence is quickly tempered by hardships on the trek from Illinois—a snake bite, death, and mounting worries—as the trip becomes interminable (“There is no wagon train,/ only families moving together, passing each other by,/ there is no help to be given/ there is only forward”). The cadence of the poems slows, becoming deliberate and labored, as Mary Ann is overcome by exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation, then picks up with ghastly speed as she gorges on raw deer meat in the wilderness. A wayward traveler stumbling through the brush is nearly mistaken for food, foreshadowing the party’s desperate means of survival while stranded in the mountains during a snowstorm. The gravity of the cannibalism, now synonymous with the Donner Party, is treated deftly, conveying Mary Ann’s visceral reactions without becoming steeped in grisly detail. As loss compounds loss, brevity and repetition (“I stitch... I stitch”) intensify key moments in a harrowing, exhausting trek. Ages 10–14. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/08/2016
Release date: 10/11/2016
Genre: Children's
Compact Disc - 978-1-5226-5631-9
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-5226-5633-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-5226-5629-6
MP3 CD - 978-1-5226-5630-2
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