Teen Book Review

Northeast Library

Teen Book Review

Celebrating the holiday season may make readers nostalgic for the past, and that makes this a great month to talk about historical fiction.  If you love the Wild West and rip-roaring adventure, with just a touch of sadness, then The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan may just be the book for you.  If you would like to learn more, than read my summary and review below.

Aiden Lynch has known great tragedy in his young life.  The son of Kansas homesteaders, Aiden has seen all the members of his family claimed one by one by the dangers of the prairie or the Civil War, and now only he and his sister Maddy are left. The two of them are starving when hope arrives in the form of Jefferson J. Jackson, leader of a wagon train heading west to the Oregon Territory.  Jackson will take Maddy and Aiden with the train to Seattle, so long as Aiden agrees to work as a logger for two years when he gets there.  The two agree, and they end up in a wagon train of colorful characters.  They also end up meeting some Nez Perce Indians, who help them on their journey while at the same time trying to find a way to battle smallpox, “The Devil’s Paint” that is decimating their people.  Aiden may be the key to helping save the Nez Perce and other tribes from the disease, but he will need to overcome the tragedies of his life if he has a chance to succeed.

This story is a sweeping historical adventure.  The setting of America’s Western Frontier is vividly described and full of detail.  There are times where it slogs down the action, but never to the point of ruining the story, since it in itself is an important character to this story.  Speaking of action, the dangers of a wagon train journeying west make up the first part of the story, from dangerous river crossings to wolf attacks to Indian and soldier attacks. However, the last third of the book takes place in the saloon city of Seattle and shows the dangers and details of living there and working as a logger nearby, an aspect of Western life that is fascinating but will be unfamiliar to many readers. The Civil War only recently ended during the time this book is set, so it has a great impact on the story as well. Above and beyond the fiction, this story also describes real historical events and is firmly rooted in history with a great author’s note and websites at the back of the book. All of these experiences help Aiden mature into a young man, rocked by tragedy but willing to help out friends who are in need. 

The Devil’s Paintbox is recommended for teen readers of all ages.  Check it out along with other historical fiction titles at Northeast or your local DC Public Library branch today.

--by Brandon Digwood