As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I hate westerns. I find the vast majority of them to be boring and retellings of the exact same story. That being said, I did enjoy my latest read, Victoria McKernan’s The Devil’s Paintbox. This story follows Aiden along his journey on the Oregon Trail and into his new “life” as a logger. This was not a happy book by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought it portrayed Aiden’s struggles in a very real way.
Aiden and his little sister, Maddy, are the last surviving members of their family. They live in the remains of their family’s Kansas farm which has been ravaged by drought. Aiden knows they are close to death unless help arrives soon. Well, help arrives in the form of Jefferson J. Jackson, a man organizing a wagon trail to Oregon. Jackson is wary of taking on Aiden and Maddy, but he is eventually convinced, and the two young people earn their keep along the trail.
The trail is not without its troubles. Wagons break, tempers flare, people die. Aiden’s journey is fraught with danger, but Aiden does make friends with an Indian community along the way. When smallpox, or “the devil’s paint,” threatens Aiden’s friends in the Nez Perce tribe, Aiden risks the new life he has carved for himself to save the tribe from certain annihilation.
The Devil’s Paintbox is a heartbreaking look at one teen’s life as he tries to find some semblance of hope in a world that no longer makes sense. I would definitely recommend this book to those interested in what the Oregon Trail was really like and what happened to the people who made it to the end of the journey. The trail was just the beginning.