Sarah Agnes Prine is a teenage girl (around 16 or 17) who lives on a ranch in 1880s Arizona. She has four brothers but wants more than anything to have a sister -
It is good to have these brothers here but it's not the same as having a girl you can talk to and play with, and besides, they can be an ornery bunch and tease me no end. I am purely outnumbered.
The family own a spread near Phoenix, but up sticks suddenly at the father's whim and begin a journey to Texas because he thinks the living might be easier over there. Sarah is the keeper of a diary and charts the family's progress.
Almost immediately tragedy strikes and continues to strike. Indians attack. The Prines join forces with a couple of other families and the Indians continue to attack. There are deaths, rape, sickness, Sarah's mother suffers a breakdown and so forth. Sarah has to grow up very fast indeed. Luckily it seems she's the best shot in the family and she is the one who saves them more than once.
Arriving at their destination what's left of the family decide that Texas is not the place for them after all. They join a wagon train that is heading back to Arizona territory and Sarah meets, for the first time, Captain Jack Elliot, the army officer who is escorting the train. She's not impressed, finding him too rough and ready and too much inclined to speak his mind. The trip is long and arduous and, once again, Sarah's shooting skills are required. She gains the admiration of the captain but is scared of the effect he's having on her.
Eventually the family arrive back in Arizona and decide to settle near Tuscon where the army has a base and where Captain Elliot is stationed. They stake a claim and start building a ranch to raise horses but, although they are now settled at last, their trials and tribulations are very far from over.
The main thing to say about this book really is how much Sarah Prine's character shines. It practically jumps off the page at you and you just can't help loving her. She judges herself harshly. She feels she is not devout enough and not 'good' like her sister-in-law, Savannah, because she has uncharitable thoughts about people and often acts rashly. But the fact is, of all the family, it's Sarah who is the strong one. Time and time again the family rely on her quick wittedness in an emergency and she never fails them. She is intelligent, strong, and a staunch ally. Throughout the book various events test her to the limit but always she comes through.
I probably should stress that this book is a work of fiction... because... in fact it does read uncannily like a non-fiction diary. I have yet to read any of the several diaries of pioneers I have on my Kindle, but it will be interesting to compare the two when I eventually get to it. What may be missing is the romantic element. Somewhere on the net I actually saw this book described as a 'romance'. I laughed. Not sure how anyone could get it quite so wrong. There is romance, yes, but Mills and Boon/Harlequin this definitely is *not*. It's hard hitting, *tragic* in places... quite a few places in fact... and underlines what a tough life these people had forging a life for themselves in an alien environment, which had a native population that didn't want them there. (And you can understand *that* too.) But underlying the tragedy is a tale of great courage and hardship written with honesty and a great deal of humour. I adored Sarah... and Jack Elliot too. What a pair.
I've just discovered that Nancy Turner has written two more books about Sarah Prine, Sarah's Quilt and The Star Garden. I honestly can't wait to get my hands on them. These is My Words will make my top ten list at the end of the year, no question. Wonderful, wonderful book.