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The Devil's Paintbox by Victoria…
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The Devil's Paintbox

by Victoria McKernan

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When The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan opens in April 1865, Aiden and his sister are barely surviving on their family homestead in Kansas. Over the last winter, their parents and other brothers and sisters have died and they have been reduced to eating dirt to quell their hunger pains. Luckily a wagon train master arrives and although he plans only to take them into the nearest town, Aiden convinces him to allow both himself and his sister to travel west to Seattle to work in the lumber camps.

They are told at the beginning of their journey, “There’s a grave a mile along the Oregon Trail. Aside from disease, there’s storms, Indians, stampedes, and pure awful accident. Anyway you can think up to die is out there.” This dire warning proved true as tragedy indeed struck. The story then makes an abrupt change as we follow Aiden into the lumber camps, but eventually this story evolves into the quest for getting smallpox vaccinations to the Indians.

I felt like I was reading two separate books as the story changed so completely. Either plot would have been an excellent story, but the mash up of the two just left me rather confused. Underlying all was a darkness that hung rather heavily on the pages, making it difficult to see this book as a YA. Although a well written book, I was left a little disappointed as this wasn't the story I had envisioned. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jul 13, 2011 |
Grim story. ( )
  melodyreads | Apr 18, 2010 |
Reviewed by Allison Fraclose for TeensReadToo.com

As the only surviving members of their family, 15-year-old Aiden Lynch and his sister, Maddy, have barely made it through the harsh winter alone. Not much remains in their part of Kansas after the flood and the fires, and the two are reduced to living off clay from the river and the occasional grasshopper.

It's been five months since they've seen another human being, so when Jefferson J. Jackson arrives on their land, looking for leftover sodbusters to work in the lumber camps of Seattle, Aiden can hardly believe it. With the news that the Civil War has ended, along with Aiden's only hope of joining the army to provide for himself and his sister, their lack of choice is clear, and the two manage to convince Jackson to take them along.

Brother and sister thrive and even make a few friends during their journey with Jackson's wagon train - Aiden with the Nez Pearce Indian, Tupic, and Maddy with the haunted doctor, Carlos. The two dare to dream of the lives they will create for themselves once Aiden's term of indenture is over, but there are many ways to die on the Oregon Trail, and hardship strikes the Jackson train many times over.

Once the train trail splits off and everyone goes their respective ways, Aiden loses himself in the mindless work of the lumber camps, cutting himself off from all emotion. When Tupic tells him of the horrible plague of small pox that has invaded the Indian community, Aiden must decide whether he will continue to hide from all responsibility, or if he will bother to fight for a cause that may already be lost.

This achingly emotional story explores some of the hardships that surrounded the travels of pioneers on the Oregon Trail and the myths that remain of the American government's approach toward Native Americans and small pox. Bittersweet and raw, this is one historical tale that will stay with the reader for a long time afterward. ( )
  GeniusJen | Oct 10, 2009 |
Aidan and his sister Maddy are the only ones remaining from their family in Kansas, and they are close to starvation themselves. A man finds them and agrees to take them in his wagon train to the West Coast so Aidan can become a logger to work off the cost of their transport. Along the way readers experience the violence of nature as well as of men, learn how much of the west was settled, and are introduced to the complicated, and frequently cruel, relationship between the white settlers and the Native Americans. Well written and engrossing. ( )
  ChristianR | Jun 8, 2009 |
Adolescent Aiden Lynch and his younger sister Maddy are in dire straits on their Kansas farm in post Civil War America when they meet a charismatic stranger named Jefferson J. Jackson. Jackson is leading a wagon train to the west and offers them a place with the group in exchange for Aiden’s promise to work as a logger in Washington Territory. With their whole family deceased and almost certain death facing them due to starvation, Aiden and Maddy agree to join this adventure.

An adventure it is with interesting new friends, beautiful landscapes, sickness, accidents, harsh weather conditions, Indians, and smallpox also known as “the devil’s paint.” Along the way, Aiden makes friendships with Indians from the Nez Perce tribe and tries to help save them from smallpox. Meanwhile, Maddy finds herself wanting to become a doctor at a time when women were expected to keep their place and get married. Will these two very young Americans be able to achieve their dreams in spite of harsh realities?

The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan is a very rich and deep novel. McKernan expertly ties a sad part of White/Native American history, the fact that Native Americans were not allowed to be vaccinated against smallpox during the post Civil War era, into the deep belly of her plot. This novel does not sugar coat how harsh life was for such pioneers as Aiden and Maddy who were basically facing the threat of death every single day of their lives. Still there is a hopefulness to the book in the fact that both teens find inner strength to cope with the demons that surround them. Their humanity is universal and will touch all readers because no matter what the time period is, we all face the same weaknesses of the human spirit. If you are a fan of thought-provoking historical fiction, then this is the novel for you. ( )
  RoseMarion | May 17, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375837507, Hardcover)

When orphans Aiden and Maddy Lynch first meet trailrider Jefferson J. Jackson in the spring of 1865, they’re struggling to survive on their family’s drought-ravaged Kansas farm. So when Jackson offers an escape—a 2000-mile journey across the roughest country in the world—Aiden knows it’s their only choice.

They say there are a hundred ways to die on the Oregon Trail, and the long wagon journey is broken only by catastrophe: wolf attacks, rattlesnakes, deadly river crossings, Indians, and the looming threat of smallpox, “the devil’s paint.” Through it all, Aiden and Maddy and a hundred fellow travelers move forward with a growing hope, and the promise of a new life in the Washington Territory. But one question haunts them: who will survive the journey?

In an adventure-filled and historically accurate new novel, Victoria McKernan captures both the peril and the stunning beauty of the frontier West. Shackleton’s Stowaway (“Truly thrilling” according to The Washington Post) was Victoria McKernan’s first novel for young adults. She lives in Washington, D.C..

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:47 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In 1865, fifteen-year-old Aiden and his thirteen-year-old sister Maddy, penniless orphans, leave drought-stricken Kansas on a wagon train hoping for a better life in Seattle, but find there are still many hardships to be faced.

» see all 2 descriptions

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