The Devils Paintbox
by McKernan, Victoria
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Book list This hugely ambitious historical fiction follows the troubled fortunes of teenage Aiden and his younger sister, Maddy, as they journey, via wagon train, from their impoverished family farm in Kansas to what they hope will be a brighter new life in Oregon. But history reveals that such hopes were often dashed in the real, post-Civil War world, and author McKernan has clearly read her history. The result is a relentlessly bleak examination of the unending vicissitudes including epidemics of smallpox ( the devil's paint ), encounters with Indians, heartless bullies, horrible accidents, and worse that visit the lives of these innocent pilgrims. And it quickly becomes obvious that even if Aiden and Maddy actually make it to Oregon, their arrival will remain something less than an answer to their prayers. Almost 400 pages of human folly, fear, cupidity, stupidity, heartbreak, death, and disaster nearly drive Aiden and the reader insane. But that's often the way with epics, and that's just what McKernan with fitful success has written. Her ambition is admirable, but the effort of reading the result may ultimately overwhelm many readers.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2009 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Set in 1865, McKernan's (Shackleton's Stowaway) gripping novel follows the westward journey of 16-year-old Aiden, with his younger sister, Maddie, from their late parents' farm in Kansas. Harsh conditions and a devastating fire have prompted the exodus of most of the townsfolk, and the siblings have nearly starved to death when the story begins. New opportunity comes in the form of a wagon train and its guide, who offers Aiden a chance to pay off the cost of his and Maddie's trip with labor at a logging camp. Traveling across the country and deep into Aiden's experiences of despair and hope reborn, McKernan's supple prose (a bowl of jam "shimmers in the sun like a pot of melted rubies") immerses readers in a sometimes brutal history; a story line about the threat to Indians from smallpox ("the devil's paintbox") and the policy of denying them vaccines, builds to a powerful conclusion. Flawless attention to detail and steady pacing keep readers fully engaged. While the Indians Aiden meets may come off idealized, the other characters are fully fledged. Readers will be riveted. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved