Where the Lost Wander
If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you’ll find Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon, a wonderful read. It takes place in 1850’s America, following a wagon train carrying families west on the Oregon Trail. Along with all their worldly goods, they travel with a full contingent of challenge, triumph, and loss.
First, let me tell you about the end – actually, the afterword in which the author explains that she is descended from the pioneers on whom many of the characters are based. Her fascination with Native American culture is obvious; she presents it with detail and compassion. Likewise, the innocence and purpose of her own forebears, who ventured to make what they had known would be an arduous trek.
Cleverly, the author opens the story itself with a traumatic turn suffered by her female protagonist mid-trip. Then she returns to the beginning and works forward, from which point the story is linear. But the tension introduced – the wondering when that trauma is going to happen and how it will be resolved – stayed in the back of my mind and kept me reading.
Not that I needed much help. I have no relatives among the pioneers, but I’ve always been intrigued by their experience. This book reinforced some things I knew and introduced others. I learned a lot.
Where the Lost Wander is beautifully written. The prose is fresh, and the plot twists unexpected. The cast is diverse. While a few characters are annoying and others downright evil, the bulk are likable. This is particularly true of the two leads – Naomi May, a young widow who sets out with her family for a new life in California, and John Lowry, a half-Pawnee mule driver who accompanies the train. The attraction between these two feels real, their challenges well-measured, their stories alternately heartrending and glorious.
Though set in a very different time from our own, this story is one of courage in the face of the unknown and the importance of perseverance when all feels lost. It’s a theme that makes Where the Lost Wander relatable on a very contemporary level.