A life-changing journey across AmericaTitle: Prairie Journey
Author: Frances Bonney Jenner
Publisher: Irie Books
I’ve been on a journey. It hasn’t always been pleasant, nor has it been particularly fun, but it has been life changing for the Clarke family, sometimes tragic, often heroic, and every day a challenge. Frances Bonney Jenner has captured the story of young Savannah who is wrenched from her familiar surroundings and lifelong friends to embark on a harrowing trip across the continent in a wagon train.
Facing unknown obstacles 12-year-old Savannah and her family set out in search of better prospects, leaving their Missouri farm and the life she loves. It is a coming of age story set in a historical setting. Savannah considers herself less-than her smart and pretty sister, Faye. She is a sensitive child and as many children do, internalizes much of what happens and finds fault with herself, taking on worry and uncertainty like ill-fitting coats. Despite her misgivings, she proves to be self-reliant, courageous and daring.
Jenner’s careful research brings to life the perils of traveling across the country by wagon train, an endless line of lurching prairie schooners pulled by oxen, barely able to hold the essentials of life – food and water – and little room for carrying passengers, and then only when absolutely necessary.
The rhythm of wearisome days and nights of restless sleep are the heartbeat of trail life it seems, punctuated by conflicts and fears, obstacles to go over or around, and Savannah’s certainty that it will end in disaster for her family.
Through it all there is an underlying song that brings harmony and hope to the story. Savannah’s poetry peppers the narrative, which is told in her voice. Each milestone on the journey reveals her fears and her transformation.
At Ragtown in the Carson River Valley, Savannah and her mother rest by the river following the trip across a brutal and unforgiving desert. Her mother reads from a familiar book. Savannah’s mind wanders and she thinks…
Saw herds of buffalo, the Kentucky salt
springs long ago,
the singsong rhythm
of Mother’s voice, the comfort
of words I knew so well, soothing the pain
of the desert crossing.
These bits of Savannah’s heart and mind shared throughout the narrative bring light to a story of pain and suffering, healing and hope.
Prairie Journey is told from the perspective of a young girl, but its appeal is in a story well told about a time in American history that is perhaps romanticized in movies, or at the least glossed over. Jenner’s research for the book was extensive. She learned that despite starvation, illness and death the pioneers also had exciting times and times of pure drudgery. The story conveys life on the trail with insightful attention to detail, and characters you hope will find their way safely to their new home.
The author lives in Evergreen, Colo., with her husband Doug. The couple traveled all 2000 miles of the California Trail and walked alongside a covered wagon and rattlesnakes to reach Chimney Rock, which is featured in the storyline of the book. “We slept there overnight, just like Savannah, my star character,” she writes on her blog. For more information about Frances and Prairie Journey go to http://www.prairiejourney.com
This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to www.vandermeerbooks.com.