Book review: To Stay Alive, by Skila Brown

Brown, Skila. To stay alive. Candlewick Press, 2016. 277 pgs. $17.99. ISBN:978-0-7636-7811-1. Gr. 8+. P8 Q8

In 1846, Mary Anne Graves, her eight siblings, and their mother and father left their farm in Illinois to go to California. The story is written using free prose as Anna and her family journey west. After reaching Fort Laramie they rest and buy supplies. When they leave they do not take the usual trail. Instead, they follow the ill-fated Donner party. Though the trail is supposed to be a passable, it isn’t. They have to break the trail which is steep, too steep  for the wagons. This causes a delay and the wagon train is caught high in the mountains in the snow. The book then deals with the survival and those who leave to try to get help. The survival of those that are left behind finally depends on their decision to eat the bodies of those who died. This part of the story can be very gruesome and graphic. Based on the life of Mary Anne Graves, a survivor of the Donner Party, the book includes biographical information in the end matter.

Verdict: This is a book that needs to be read by older students as the book is graphic enough that I have concerns of how younger students would react to it.

November 2016 review by Carol Bernardi.

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