Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #3) by Nathan Hale

Uff-da, not your typical migration story. The Oregon trail was well-established, but when Lansford Hastings published a guide in the 1840's claiming he knew of a "shortcut" to California, 80 plus families decided to take his word literally and head West. Hastings was not leading the group nor had he ever taken the route, although Reed was convinced the man was on a wagon train just ahead of him. A series of mishaps, scammers, and tragedy that would make for a depressing tale are lightened by the author's clever use of the narrator, Nathan Hale, the hangman as comic relief, and the British Provost. The author brings history alive with great storytelling, character development, and humor.

Told from the Reed family's point-of-view, the stubborn father's stupidity in taking Hasting's word literally rather than gathering more facts and information and his need to be important in the wagon train shows how he was one of the main culprits in leading the group astray. When a disaster happened, you can be sure that Reed made some dumb decision. When his hotheadedness led to murder he is banned from the group. Yet, inspite of his frustrating inferiority complex, he was brave and he did come back and rescue those he could when he found out the truth. What a misguided, interesting protagonist. I thought it was funny how his wife seemed annoyed with him most of the time, but at the end was so happy to see him.

Irony abounds in this story and of course the cannibalism is going to draw many readers. Hale lightens this part and does not go into details. He also focuses on the obstacles that the families overcame. Hangman is over the top being upset by the people eating the animals, but finds the cannibalism boring. The Grim Reaper is illustrated as traveling through the camp while the narrators tell the reader what pages to skip to if they don't want to hear about the deaths. I can't say I've seen foreshadowing and tension used in this way! And it works because of the graphic novel format. The author downplays the grotesqueness and plays up the lesser of the two evils, making the topic lighter, age appropriate, and funny. I know, you are wondering how can this topic be funny, but the author manages to do it with his writing-wizard-illustration skills. Have I hooked you? Good, because this series is worth reading.

5 Smileys

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