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Set in 1865, McKernan's (Shackleton's Stowaway) gripping novel follows the westward journey of 16-year-old Aiden, with his younger sister, Maddie, from their late parents' farm in Kansas. Harsh conditions and a devastating fire have prompted the exodus of most of the townsfolk, and the siblings have nearly starved to death when the story begins. New opportunity comes in the form of a wagon train and its guide, who offers Aiden a chance to pay off the cost of his and Maddie's trip with labor at a logging camp. Traveling across the country and deep into Aiden's experiences of despair and hope reborn, McKernan's supple prose (a bowl of jam "shimmers in the sun like a pot of melted rubies") immerses readers in a sometimes brutal history; a story line about the threat to Indians from smallpox ("the devil's paintbox") and the policy of denying them vaccines, builds to a powerful conclusion. Flawless attention to detail and steady pacing keep readers fully engaged. While the Indians Aiden meets may come off idealized, the other characters are fully fledged. Readers will be riveted. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.