cover image A Light in the Wilderness

A Light in the Wilderness

Jane Kirkpatrick. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2231-9

Kirkpatrick (The Daughter’s Walk) exercises her considerable gift for making history come alive in this real-life tale of a freed slave who travels across the country to Oregon Territory in the late 1840s. Kirkpatrick draws an indelible and intriguing portrait of Letitia Carson, an African-American woman who obtains her freedom and then determinedly makes her own way in a unsympathetic society. Among her allies are her common-law husband Davey, an Irish immigrant; Nancy Hawkins, a white woman whose family is also headed to Oregon; and Betsy, a Kalapuya Indian whose separate story in Oregon Territory eventually converges with Letitia’s life. Letitia is fully imagined, and Kirkpatrick skillfully relates Letitia’s thoughts, cementing a bond of empathy between character and reader. Betsy is underdeveloped in comparison to many of the other secondary characters. But, on the whole, Kirkpatrick’s historical homework is thorough, and her realization of a little-known African-American pioneer is persuasive and poignant. (Sept.)