Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Devil's Paintbox

McKernan, Victoria. 2009. The Devil's Paintbox. Random House. 360 pages.

Aiden Lynch slid down the steep creek bank, dirt crumbling beneath his bare feet and dust rising in a cloud behind him.

This is a difficult read. Emotionally that is. Especially if you are allergic to westerns. Aiden and his younger sister, Maddy, are starving to death. As in eating dirt and splitting up small bugs between them starving. If no one intervenes, it's only a matter of time until they both die. Their parents have died. And their neighbors have all scattered. Some have died. Some have moved away. But regardless, these two are isolated from the world. (The setting is Kansas in 1865.)

These two are given a second chance when Jefferson J. Jackson stumbles upon them. If Aiden agrees to work two years in a lumber camp (one year for himself, one year for his sister) then Jackson will let them join his wagon on a wagon train west. But the Oregon Trail holds so many dangers--some expected, some not so much--and their survival is never a guarantee. Every day almost seems to be a life-and-death matter.

The heart of this one turns out (in a way) to be about small pox and the oh-so-controversial vaccinations for small pox. Who deserves the chance to be vaccinated? Who doesn't? Should everyone be vaccinated? Should race and class matter? How much prejudice is involved?

This is a novel that makes you think. About the war. About the effects of the war. About prejudice. About what is right and wrong. About friendships. About life and death too.

It's a bit raw-and-rough on the emotions.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Jeane said...

I had heard of this title, but never really knew what it was about. It actually sounds kind of good- I might look for this one to read.

DogEar said...

I highly recommend this book. I'm hoping it will win the Printz as it's my favorite so far.