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I’m kind of on an Oregon Trail kick right now.  This book is a fictional account of a real woman, Mary Rockwood Powers.  Powers wrote letters home to her family, describing their journey, and this book is based on those letters.  The title is certainly an accurate description of this family’s journey.  Mary’s husband scorned advice from experienced trail travelers and purchased beautiful horses to pull their wagon instead of oxen, left late in the spring, and began the journey alone without a wagon train or adequate provisions.   Once on the trail, her husband had a mental breakdown, and Mary was suddenly responsible for making life or death decisions for their family.  Step by step, Mary led her family to California, somehow managing to outlast the trail.

While I certainly admire Mary’s courage and determination, the book itself was somewhat exhausting to read.  The journey was long and harrowing, and there were few lighthearted moments to break the monotony of the struggle.  In that, O’Brien did an excellent job of portraying to the reader a small glimmer of what life on the trail must have been like.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

10th December 2008

Impossible A modern day fantasy book, based on the ballad “Scarborough Fair.”  Lucy, her mother, her grandmother and all of her ancestors have fallen under the curse of an evil elfin knight.  They must either complete 3 impossible tasks, or belong to him forever.  When Lucy discovers the curse, she and her foster family have only a few short months to complete the tasks before the elfin knight comes back to claim his prize.

One unique thing that struck me about this book was how Lucy, her friend Zach and her foster parents all came together to complete the tasks.  Usually in young adult fiction, the adults are incapable, out of touch, or absent.  In Werlin’s book,  Lucy is able to turn to her foster parents for support and help.  I like that.

I was incorrect when I wrote that The Very Worst Thing was Hayden’s first novel. That was her first novel for kids. The Sunflower Forest was actually Hayden’s first novel. It’s set about 25 years after WWII. 17 year old Lesley has always been a caretaker for her mother. Her mom suffered at the hands of the Nazis in Germany, and was never able to fully recover. When her mother sinks further into mental illness, Lesley’s dad seems unable to acknowledge the seriousness of the condition and ask for help. Eventually, tragedy strikes, and the family must cope with the results.

I hope that Hayden sticks to stories about her students. This book was OK, but I probably wouldn’t have finished it, if I hadn’t enjoyed Hayden’s other books so much.