Middle Grade Review: Stay Alive: The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds, The Donner Party Expedition, 1846 (My Name Is America) (Rodman Philbrick)
About This Book:
"Soon we will eat the frozen cattle.... And then, when that is gone, what shall we eat?
Shall we eat the snow? Shall we eat the ice? Shall we eat the bark on the frozen trees?
What shall we eat?"
Spring, 1846: Douglas Allen Deeds dreams of starting a new life out West. When the opportunity to join the Donner Party Expedition arises, he leaves the life he's known behind to set out on the nearly 2,000-mile trek from Independence, Missouri to sunny California.
But progress is slow. Brutal heat, poisoned water, and rough terrain slow them down. Soon they have a choice: continue on the known but grueling trail, or take a shortcut that would cut 350 miles from their journey-but take them through unknown territory. Is it worth the risk?
Winter comes quickly in the mountains, and the wrong choice could leave them stranded in the Sierra Mountains when the snow comes, with no shelter, supplies, or food.
*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*
Details of traveling distances through a landscape with no modern amenities will be eye opening to young readers who can't get through the day without a drink of water or a wall outlet to charge their phone. Cooking over open fire, walking twenty miles a day, and suffering through extremes of weather will all be novel experiences for most readers. I did appreciate that the book just skimmed the surface of the most notable Donner party feature; the cannibalism. Deeds refuses to partake of his expedition mates, and the epilogue and notes at the end tell us more about what happened without getting into grisly details.
I just had a student ask for books about "the wild west", and I had to tell him there wasn't much. Aside from a few bookslike Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage (2015) Rose's Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine (2017) and Taylor's Billy the Kid (2005), I've gotten rid of most of the books about settling the west because of the problematic depictions of Native characters. Stay Alive is a much needed, exciting title covering an important, though difficult, period of US history. I'd love to see more books like this.
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