Found via: The Fourth Musketeer
Following up on my Nonfiction Monday post, here's another western-style book, this one set first on the frontier of Missouri, and then on the famed Oregon Trail - which is what made me want to pick up this book. And it didn't hurt that I received the book right around the time this bit of hilarity hit the internet:
I know they updated the game a few times, but you're seriously missing out if you never played the original game for the Apple II. Good times.
Amos Kincaid's life begins in tragedy - his young mother dies while giving birth to him, leaving him to be raised by his rough frontiersman father. Jake Kincaid doesn't think he'd be much of a father to an infant, especially since the only trades he knows - trapping and dowsing - require extensive traveling across wild parts of the country, so he drops baby Amos off with his brother in Missouri, promising to visit when he can.
Amos grows up with his aunt and uncle serving as the only family he knows. His father is a mysterious person who drops by once or twice a year for a few days before moving on again. About the only thing Amos knows about the man is that he's a dowser, someone who can find water beneath the ground, and the talent has been passed down to Amos, though he keeps it secret.
When he's a young teen, tragedy strikes his family again with the death of his beloved aunt. When Jake returns to find his sister-in-law dead and his brother a shell of his former self, he decides it's time to take Amos with him. Jake now has a wife, Blue Owl, and Jake has taken a job as a trail scout along the Oregon Trail. It's still a hard life, but with Blue Owl to help with the boy, Jake thinks it's time for the family to reunite and head West.
This book covers a long period of time, from Amos' birth until he's a young adult, which certainly lends the narrative a sort of epic scope. At the same time, the story is a very quiet one, focusing on Amos' growth as a boy and young man and his relationships on the frontier. It's a quiet and simple novel on one level, yet complex on another. Because of this, I imagine it's going to lose a lot of early readers who don't have some sort of vested interest in the story, as the real action in the story doesn't begin until over halfway through, when Amos heads out along the Oregon Trail.
This is another YA book that I can definitely see having a lot of adult appeal, not among genre fans like Twlight and Hunger Games and Harry Potter found, but among fans of so-called literary fiction. The writing style as a whole has more in common with that genre than most books written for younger readers. The third person narrative often jumps to the adults in the story, especially the women who care for Amos throughout his life. And then there's the subtle and unexpected supernatural element, as the spirit or ghost of Amos' mother appears to these same women as he grows.
Historical fiction fans will find a lot to love in this story, as the excitement and perils of life on the frontier and heading west are each given a fair amount of the story. The one potential for controversy that I can see is in the character of Blue Owl. While it was surprising and delightful to find a Native woman's perspective in the story, I fear she often fell into stereotypes about Native women: quiet, subservient, forever in wonder of "white people's" accomplishments. On the other hand, she's a sympathetic character and after Amos we probably spend the most time looking at the story from her perspective. I would absolutely love to hear the opinion of someone who knows more about Native American cultures (Blue Owl is Shoshone) and representation in lit (especially YA).