Monday, November 13, 2017

A Promising Life by Emily Arnold McCully, 2017

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For as long as he can remember, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau has been told that a promising future lies ahead of him. After all, his mother is the great Sacagawea, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition of discovery. And thanks to his mother, Baptiste's life changes forever when Captain Clark offers him an education in the bustling new city of St. Louis.

There, his mother charges him to "learn everything" - reading, writing, languages, mathematics. His life becomes a whirl of new experiences: lessons, duels, dances, elections. He makes friends and undertakes unexpected journeys to far-off places.

But he also witnesses the injustices Clark, as a US agent for Indian Affairs, forces upon the Osage, the Arikara, the Mandan, and so many others. He sees the effect of what some call "progress" on the land and on the people who have lived there for generations. And he must choose what path he will take and what place he will have in a rapidly changing society.

(304 pages)

When a copy of A Promising Life showed up on my doorstep a few weeks ago, I was intrigued by the idea of reading a book about Sacagawea's son set during a time period I knew very little about.

It wasn't much like what I was expecting, since Sacagawea disappears from the story almost immediately and the 300-page book covers a huge span of time from Baptiste's childhood to when he's about 25-30 years old. I did learn some valuable new things about history, like the fact that Sacagawea was actually the slave of a Frenchman (who was also Baptiste's father) and that the real-life Jean Baptiste Charbonneau lived an absolutely fascinating–and very international!–life.

Unfortunately, I can't say I really loved the book. I never got a good handle on the characters because it felt like there were just too many people and events going on. I also don't feel like there's a good rising action, climax, falling action, etc., because the author essentially just took all the historical facts known about Baptiste and filled in the gaps with her own ideas. Real life doesn't often fall into easy plot organization, does it?

Anyway, I feel like A Promising Life is a very educational book but it just wasn't quite my cup of tea. It felt a bit mature at times (especially when Baptiste fathers a baby in a one-night stand–though details are given!). It also introduced me to a lot of fascinating historical characters, though, so I'm still happy to have had the opportunity to read it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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