Book Review: These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

Book:  These Is My Words
Author:  Nancy E. Turner
Pages:  416
Format: Hardcover, paperback, audio cassette, Kindle/ebook
Publisher:  Harper Perennial (April 2008)
Book Source:  Private Loan
Category:  Historical Fiction
Style:  Gripping action, compelling romance & desperate heartbreak
“My life feels like a book left out on the porch, and the wind blows the pages faster and faster, turning always toward a new chapter faster than I can stop to read it.” ― Nancy E. Turner, These Is My Words
My friend, Ginger, showed up on my porch the other day with this book and Shanghai Girls by Lisa See in hand.  "You need to read this," she announced unceremoniously as she shoved These Is My Words at me.  "We're doing it for book club."  Shanghai Girls was an afterthought.  I could read it and pass it on to whomever wanted it.  However, These Is My Words she wants back.  I know because she wrote her name in it. 

The last book I borrowed from Ginger was Catching Fire, the second of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  I had picked up The Hunger Games at Sam's Club on the cheap to see what the fuss was about, finished it in the middle of the night, and was desperate to get my hands on the next installment.  As always, she came through for me.

Ginger never steers me wrong.  I knew TIMW had to be good, so I picked it up and found it near impossible to put down.  I need to call her and see if she has Sarah's Quilt, the next book in the Sarah Agnes Prine series.

In the format of a journal, Ms. Turner writes as a barely literate pioneer girl of seventeen who taught herself to read from the Bible.  She lives in the New Mexico territory, and the book starts out as her family sets out for San Angelo, Texas, in search of greener pastures.  Assaulted by Apache, brigands and nature, tragedy after tragedy beset the Prine family.  At San Angelo, fatherless, with a mother in deep shock, the self-sufficient siblings determine to return home.  They fall in with a wagon train of disparate settlers escorted by a detachment of soldiers for protection.  Captain Jack Elliot, a war-hardened horse soldier, commands the company.  The Prines give up the idea of returning to their old homestead but stick with the Army until they reach Tucson in the Arizona territory where they begin anew.

These Is My Words grips the reader from the outset because no one is safe.  Graves litter the trail to San Angelo. Family members young and old are murdered or succumb to accidents and illness.  Hopes are disappointed and disasters strike.  The reader feels the blistering heat, the harsh, unforgiving landscape and the sharp stones beneath feet ill-shod.  The bone-weary fatigue and paralyzing grief burn through muscles and joints.  Told in the voice of a young girl emerging into womanhood, the narrative reads both naive and brutal.  The body count is high.  

Two scenes in particular are graphically gruesome, but, on the whole, Ms. Turner manages to strike a balance between stark realism and deference to the reader's sensibilities.  Even so, she scarcely allows the reader a chance to catch their breath before her fast-paced narrative assaults Sarah and her kin once again.

Sarah emerges as a tough-as-nails do-or-die take-no-prisoners woman who lusts after knowledge and a home of her own.  She happens upon an abandoned cache of books to satisfy the former and finds the latter in marriage and a horse ranch.  However, like everything else in her life, her dreams of love are shattered, but, as in all else, she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and keeps on with the business of living.  A crack shot with nerves of steel, she stands unflinching between anyone or anything threatening her own.  She attacks life with the same dogged determination. 

The story covers a span of twenty years, and Ms. Turner deftly and subtly expands Sarah's education merely through the quality of her language.  Love blossoms on a similarly insidious fashion, until it becomes an all-consuming passion that both sustains her and causes her greatest heartbreaks.  I read some reviewer compare Sarah and Jack to Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler, but I have to disagree.  Scarlet may have the same survivor spunkiness, but she is also spoiled, myopic and self-centered.  Selflessness defines Sarah Prine despite her stubbornness, temper and lack of refinement, and Jack is her perfect counterpart.

As for my acid test, I read until 5am and have a screaming headache because I couldn't put down this book, but it was worth it.  I can't wait to get my hands on the two sequels.

Bottom line: Sarah Prine is the best protagonist I have read in a very, very long time.  I don't know of Ginger is ever going to get her book back.

FTC disclaimer:  I borrowed this book through the public library system and received no compensation from the author or their agent for this content.

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