A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick
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Publishing Date: September 2, 2014
Letitia holds nothing more dear than the papers that prove she is no longer a slave. They may not cause white folks to treat her like a human being, but at least they show she is free. She trusts in those words she cannot read–as she is beginning to trust in Davey Carson, an Irish immigrant cattleman who wants her to come west with him.I received a copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own. Buy the paperback version direct from the publisher today!
Nancy Hawkins is loathe to leave her settled life for the treacherous journey by wagon train, but she is so deeply in love with her husband that she knows she will follow him anywhere–even when the trek exacts a terrible cost.
Betsy is a Kalapuya Indian, the last remnant of a once proud tribe in the Willamette Valley in Oregon territory. She spends her time trying to impart the wisdom and ways of her people to her grandson. But she will soon have another person to care for.
As season turns to season, suspicion turns to friendship, and fear turns to courage, three spirited women will discover what it means to be truly free in a land that makes promises it cannot fulfill.
Based on a true story
Based on the life of a real black woman who followed the Oregon Trail, A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick is a tale of injustice and the pursuit of freedom. Kirkpatrick did a TON of research for this novel and it truly shines through. The true to life details of the Oregon Trail and life as a black woman during that time period are what kept me going to the very end.
The summary indicates that we will follow the lives of three separate women as their lives intertwined. I found this to be a bit false. Every now and then we would get a chapter from Nancy's point of view, but it was usually brief and didn't reveal much about her life or character. We got even less from Betsy, she held about three chapters before her life ran into Letitia's and then she became solely a background character. Letitia, then, was the true star. We follow her life from Missouri, where she secretly and dangerously marries a white man, along the Oregon Trail and finally into homesteading in Oregon.
Kirkpatrick stuck incredibly close to the historical details. So instead of getting what I wanted from the story, I only got what really happened. Which is good and nice, but for me, it just didn't make that great of a re-telling. The book read too much like a textbook with just brief fictional tidbits thrown in (conversations and little details). It lost what personality it had once we hit the Oregon Trail. While I like a good historical fiction, this one felt too factual and not enough fiction for me.
While I like Letitia (and her courage!) the story just didn't feel like a story to me. We covered too large of a time period in the character's life and so I felt we were just drifting in and out for the 'highlights'. This kept me from truly connecting and placing myself in Letitia's (well-worn) shoes. Wonderfully researched, true to history, and very well written...but this book was just not for me. I struggled to finish, but finish I did. I can only give it 2 stars but would encourage you to check it out if you like true to history life stories and strong female lead characters.