Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas knocked it out of the park again with her latest novel about women pioneers, Westering Women. I've had the pleasure of meeting Sandra, and I've read pretty much all of her novels over the years. I'm never disappointed. 

One of my favorite history subjects is pioneering women. I've always been fascinated by these incredible women, who gave up everything they knew and loved to follow their husbands out West to start new lives. Imagine walking from St. Louis to California. In a dress. No A/C, no iced coffee, no comforting hotel to sleep in at night. Maybe giving birth while out in the middle of nowhere. Losing children and husbands to cholera, accidents, drowning. When I think of these women, I can't help but admire their tenacity, strength of mind, and downright badassery. I wonder if I would have been able to do what they did; if I had the hardcore toughness, and grace, to make it West and start a new life. This is what Sandra's novel had me thinking about every time I sat down to read Westering Women. 

It was pretty easy to slip right into Maggie Hale's story, which starts in Chicago. She's fleeing a horribly abusive husband with her small daughter, Clara. She sees an advertisement for women to travel West as potential brides for miners in California. It's her only chance to get out of Chicago before she's arrested for her husband's murder. A seamstress, she's been working hard to keep herself and Clara going, but money is running out, and after defending herself and Clara from the latest abuse of her husband, she fears she will pay the ultimate price. 

Maggie meets Mary at the church where they gather to apply to go West. Mary is one tough woman. Standing tall and broad, she works on the farm she shares with her brother and his wife. She's treated badly by both, and does the work of two without much reward. She's ready to travel West and start anew. 

Maggie and Mary are two of the main characters, but there's also a host of other folks who round out the wagon train: William and Joseph, both reverends who have organized the wagon train; Caroline, Joseph's wife and William's sister, who shows compassion and love to all she meets; Penn, a runaway from an abusive man and his brothers; Winny, a servant who wants to find her brother in California, and Bessie, the rich widow who is sponsoring the trip and also going West to start over again. There are more characters, and you'll get to know them all. 

The women endure many hardships, challenges, and tragedies. It may seem like a lot, but in reality, this was life on the trail. Most of the men in the novel aren't the best characters. Penn and Maggie are always looking over their shoulders, afraid they will be caught. But as the weeks go by, the women learn to defend themselves, perform the hard labor required to keep the wagons moving forward, and find strength they never knew they had. The trail hardens them in all the best ways. William and Joseph also change for the better, as they face the reality and responsibility of their journey. 

Most of all, this novel is about friendship and sisterhood, and the ties that bind women together. It's about working as a team even when it's hard or when it doesn't benefit you. It's about supporting, celebrating, and comforting those on the journey with you. This is always a theme in Sandra's novels, and I can't think of a better over-arching theme to weave into every story she creates. 

Fans of Nancy Turner's These is My Words--if you haven't read Sandra's novels, I would highly recommend you do. I can't get enough of them. 

Rating: 5/6 for another wonderful story about women who keep moving forward through strife, heartbreak, and pain. The characters are endearing, the story moves swiftly, and it is hard to put down! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

1 comment :