November 21, 2017

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To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown | SLJ Audio Review

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redstarBROWN, Skila. To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party. 3 CDs. 3:51 hrs. Brilliance. Oct. 2016. $24.99. ISBN 9781522656296. digital download.

AU-Brown-ToStayAliveGr 7 Up –For 19-year-old Mary Ann Graves, and her family, the journey from Illinois to California in 1846 meant an arduous walk through mountains and deserts, alongside livestock and wagons. Following Graves’s actual reports, the chapters of this novel, which is based on actual events, relate the party’s day-to-day struggles with nature, one another, and their own doubts and fears. Facing snakebites, harsh weather, and even murder, the members of the Donner party persevere. Just as they are ready to cross the mountains, winter falls on the Sierra Nevada, and each day becomes a battle for survival against snow, cold, and starvation—until they must resort to horrific means to survive. Although the layout of the trek lines upon each page is obviously lost in an audiobook, Lauren Ezzo beautifully communicates the cadence of the verse, varying her pace and tone, aptly conveying Mary Ann’s reactions and emotions, and modifying her pitch just enough during conversations so that it is easy to identify each character. This is an emotionally taxing story to listen to, yet Ezzo’s voice and Mary Ann’s words resonate long after the book ends. VERDICT This deeply moving fictionalized account of the hardships that were endured by those who settled out West humanizes a disturbing event in American history and is sure to spark lively discussion. [“Strong…well-crafted…. [This] novel in verse uses beautiful, descriptive words to depict the vastness of the landscape and the emotional and mental toll of perpetual suffering”: SLJ 9/16 review of the Candlewick book.]–MaryAnn Karre, formerly at West Middle School, Binghamton, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2017 issue.

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