Desperate Journey

( 5 )

Overview


Two-time Newbery Honor author turns his formidable talents to this riveting suspense novel about a spirited Irish-American girl who helps save her family from ruin on the Erie Canal in the 1840s.

When Maggie's father loses next year's salary and two of their best mules in a bet with Long-fingered John, the family is left desperate for money. They have only a few days to get the heavy cargo in their mule-drawn barge to Buffalo in order to make a much-needed bonus. But when Papa ...

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Overview


Two-time Newbery Honor author turns his formidable talents to this riveting suspense novel about a spirited Irish-American girl who helps save her family from ruin on the Erie Canal in the 1840s.

When Maggie's father loses next year's salary and two of their best mules in a bet with Long-fingered John, the family is left desperate for money. They have only a few days to get the heavy cargo in their mule-drawn barge to Buffalo in order to make a much-needed bonus. But when Papa and Uncle Henry are arrested on an alleged assault charge, 12-year-old Maggie, her younger brother, and their ailing mother must fight all manner of adversity to save their boat, their mules, and their life savings. Jim Murphy is at his best in this colorful and gritty slice of 19th-C. life on the Erie Canal.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Kirkus
The Erie Canal was “one of the greatest engineering feats in the history of the world,” a highway for settlers heading west and a route from the Great Lakes across New York state to Albany and on to
New York City. For 12-year-old Maggie Haggerty, it's a route to a new life, preparing her for a future in the wide world. When her father is arrested for an alleged assault, Maggie takes responsibility for getting a shipment to Buffalo and proves herself to her family. In the process, she finds that the life she wanted to run away from is really the life for her. The canal, however, is the real main character here, and since the final section titled “About the Erie Canal” is the most interesting part of the volume,
fans of Murphy's nonfiction might wish he had gone with a nonfiction treatment of the subject. All in all, though, this is a well-written story about a little-known part of American history. (Fiction. 9-12)

Booklist The multiple award-winning author of nonfiction, including the Newbery Honor Books The Great Fire (1995) and An American Plague (2003), Murphy moves to historical fiction in this gripping novel about the Erie Canal in 1848. The story is told from the viewpoint of Maggie Haggerty, 12, who must take over adult responsibilities when her mother is ailing and her father is arrested for starting a brawl. To save her family, Maggie must deliver a heavy barge shipment to Buffalo by a fast-approaching deadline. Her biggest job is handling the mules that walk the muddy towpath and pull the barge through the water. The characters aren't romanticized: Maggie is nervous and snappy and often feels jealous and angry at home. But the real attraction for readers is the journey itself, filled with details of daily labor on the barge and a sense of the Canal community––a “neighborhood” as tightly knit and protective as any on land. ––Hazel Rochman

SLJ
Gr 5-8–Maggie Haggerty lives and works on a boat on the Erie Canal with her mother, father, uncle, and younger brother. Set in 1848, this novel follows what happens when her father and uncle are arrested for assault. Her mother has been ill, so it falls to the 12-year-old to get their shipment to Buffalo in time to make their much-needed bonus so they won't lose their boat and to get back to New Boston in time for the trial. Murphy gives away his nonfiction roots in the way he provides information about the number of feet the canal rises or falls at each set of locks. Given this, it's surprising that he doesn't paint a clearer picture of how canal boats actually work. Even so, the book does an excellent job of providing a sense of geography and what daily life was like along the canal. The story is driven more by history than character, but it still manages to achieve suspense and hold readers' interest. A must-have for New York state libraries, this will also be welcome wherever historical fiction is popular.–Adrienne Furness, Webster Public Library, NY

Children's Literature - Wendy Hawkins
In this story, a young girl, Maggie Haggarty, who lives in a riverboat along the Erie Canal in 1848, travels the canal with her mother, father, brother, and uncle on a journey. Their goal is to make a deadline in Buffalo for a bonus that will rescue her father's boat and livelihood from an impending bank note. As the family travels, Maggie must face her mother's sickness as well as a depression that has fallen over her father since losing a fight and the family's money last winter. Maggie's struggles intensify when, after a stop at a local pub, a canal sheriff comes to arrest her father and uncle for an alleged assault against a man. Maggie must continue to lead her family in her father's absence as they encounter more obstacles along the way, including a mysterious man, Mr. Billy Black, whom Maggie must decide whether or not to trust. Even after the family delivers the shipment, their troubles continue. Maggie must return to witness the trial of her father and uncle as she attempts to see her life put back in order while she dreams of leaving canal life and all of its troubles. This story provides a descriptive trip along the canal and a young girl's coming of age. The complications of the story sometimes slow the pace of the novel, but they do result in a rewarding ending for the reader.
VOYA - Sarah Squires
Murphy brings the often neglected history of the Erie Canal to life in this well-researched novel, a departure from his noted works of nonfiction. Maggie and her family struggle to bring their shipment to Buffalo, New York, on time, for they need the payment and the bonus in order to keep their boat. When her father and uncle are accused and arrested for attempted murder, it is up to the three remaining Haggerty family members to keep going. Maggie, her younger brother Eamon, and their mother work tirelessly, driving the mules, steering the boat, and taking care of their day-to-day needs. Maggie's mother has been feeling ill, the weather is bad, and one of the mules is nursing a sore foot, but this small crew has no choice but to pull together and persevere. Fights are frequent among the captains of these heavy cargo boats called packets, especially when they need to take turns getting through the locks. The canal people are mostly hard-working families, but a lot of tough characters also work in and around the canal. When a man named Billy Black appears and offers to help, Maggie must decide whether to trust him. Although Maggie longs for a normal life in one place on solid ground, she learns that the canal is itself a community that can rally behind one of its own in times of trouble. An author's note provides an overview of the Erie Canal and explains the arduous task of moving heavy equipment and supplies westward during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. The glossary and maps are also helpful additions to the text.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Maggie Haggerty lives and works on a boat on the Erie Canal with her mother, father, uncle, and younger brother. Set in 1848, this novel follows what happens when her father and uncle are arrested for assault. Her mother has been ill, so it falls to the 12-year-old to get their shipment to Buffalo in time to make their much-needed bonus so they won't lose their boat and to get back to New Boston in time for the trial. Murphy gives away his nonfiction roots in the way he provides information about the number of feet the canal rises or falls at each set of locks. Given this, it's surprising that he doesn't paint a clearer picture of how canal boats actually work. Even so, the book does an excellent job of providing a sense of geography and what daily life was like along the canal. The story is driven more by history than character, but it still manages to achieve suspense and hold readers' interest. A must-have for New York state libraries, this will also be welcome wherever historical fiction is popular.-Adrienne Furness, Webster Public Library, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Erie Canal was "one of the greatest engineering feats in the history of the world," a highway for settlers heading west and a route from the Great Lakes across New York state to Albany and on to New York City. For 12-year-old Maggie Haggerty, it's a route to a new life, preparing her for a future in the wide world. When her father is arrested for an alleged assault, Maggie takes responsibility for getting a shipment to Buffalo and proves herself to her family. In the process, she finds that the life she wanted to run away from is really the life for her. The canal, however, is the real main character here, and since the final section titled "About the Erie Canal" is the most interesting part of the volume, fans of Murphy's nonfiction might wish he had gone with a nonfiction treatment of the subject. All in all, though, this is a well-written story about a little-known part of American history. (Fiction. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439078061
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,421,388
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Jim Murphy is the celebrated author of more than thirty-five books for young readers, most notably TRUCE: THE DAY THE SOLDIERS STOPPED FIGHTING and THE GREAT FIRE, a Newbery Honor Winner. His carefully researched, engaging, and elegantly written nonfiction has garnered the most prestigious awards in the field. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with his wife and their two sons.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2007

    You don't know it's a history lesson

    What an awesome book. I first read the reviews in the Buffalo News Next section. I bought the book, read it and mailed it to CT to my grandson, age 9. Since then I have toured the Lois McClure at the Buffalo Marina and gone through the locks at Lockport with my daughter and grandkids. I travel constantly on the NYS thruway and always think about the canal that runs parallel to the highway. I will buy a second book for my 7yr old grandson, his sister and mom for reading aloud. The content is not too grown up for todays saavy kids. Reminds me of Little House days, but on the water. Will prob check out author's other books also.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2006

    Terrific Adventure Story! Fascinating History!

    I gave a copy of Desperate Journeys to my friend¿s 11-year-old son for his birthday, and he just loved it. Even though the main character is a girl, the adventure and setting really appealed to him. Jim Murphy builds in lots of suspense to the story, and you feel as if you¿re traveling along the Erie Canal with the family of 12-year-old Maggie Haggerty. I¿ve personally read a lot of canal history, and this book brings that part of our history to life better than anything I¿ve read before, either for adults or kids. This is a terrific book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2006

    A riveting novel!

    Jim Murphy has done it again. He's a great storyteller and this time he's turned his attention to historical fiction. Maggie and her family are canallers. Set against the backdrop of the Erie Canal, Murphy has fashioned a riviting story with a truly compelling main character. With her younger brother, parents and uncle, Maggie faces all kinds of odds as she makes a desperate journey to save her family from ruin. Middle grade readers will be rooting for this heroine and wishing they could read more. Teachers will want to use this book for fun reading as well as to introduce readers to a myriad of subjects: canals, immigrant life, and westward expansion, knowing that Murphy has brought his sense of historical sweep and attention to detail to bear.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

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    Posted December 23, 2010

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