Many know of the story of the doomed Donner party, a group of travelers who were trying to make it to California from the East, but were trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains when snowfalls kept them from moving on. As the supplies ran out, and people died, some began to look at the dead as a source of food. While many wagon trains West all had their own sources of torment and tragedy, the Donner group remains in the mythology of these travels and is told in hushed tones as the ultimate horror story of what can happen when time runs out…and you are still in the mountains.
Mary Ann Graves, who was nineteen when her parents packed up the family and headed West for the promise of California with her eight siblings, had no true understanding of the sacrifices she and her fellow companions were going to make in the months to come. Part of the Graves’ misfortune was to join with the wagon train that included the Reed family. John Reed had heard of a supposed short cut, called the Hastings cutoff, which was to reduce the amount of time they had to travel. However, it turned out the cutoff was passable on horseback, but for a wagon train, it was horrible. Much time was wasted trying to make a trail and as a result, it put them weeks behind where they should have been heading into the mountains.
To Stay Alive by Skila Brown is a novel in verse that shows the gritty, boring, horrifying and desperate journey of these hopeful settlers and reveals in those awful moments what it really takes to stay alive.
Recommended for mature 6th graders and up.