2016 Readers Favorite International Book Award for Historical Fiction Honorable Mention
2014 Peacemaker Award Finalist for Best Western Novel
WEST: Journey Across the Plains is the first of a 5-part series The Jennings Papers (TheJenningsPapers.com), telling of one family’s quest for a better life.
Sarah Jennings, a blonde and pretty 17 year-old, travels West with her family from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in 1849. She is left behind in Independence, Missouri (the start of the Oregon Trail).
As her father Johnathan writes in his journal on May 19, 1949, “A savage fever came upon Sarah yesterday and she slipped into darkness as we readied to depart. Doctors told us she will surely perish. And if we stay, we may fall prey to the same illness. If we linger, we will forgo our journey west. I have left behind sums of money for her final caring and resting. All I can do now is send word to her caretakers at each post.”
In 1849, over 30,000 pioneers headed West across America to California, another 20,000 by sea. These “pioneers” came in droves for the promise of gold – and from every crevice of society – farmers, blacksmiths, immigrants, teachers, thieves and soldiers, lone fortune-seekers, businessmen, and vagabond families – all unprepared and unknowing. Less than half arrived. Too many perished from starvation, disease, or at the hands of others. The remainder turned aside – broken – miles of regret crushing their hearts, their descendants forever severed from their will to discover.
So begins the story of WEST: Journey Across the Plains. It’s a tale of a family separated by 2,000 miles of unrelenting hardships – and it is told solely through “found” journal entries and letters.
Miraculously, Sarah recovers three months later and there she begins her own journal. “With no counsel from my family and to carry on, I borrowed sums from a Madam Floret and was signed into her servitude. I have no learning of these things. I am alone and dismayed to my deepest being. By my last count, 46 men have entered my body. I did not understand such things could be done to a woman.”
Though miles apart, now the journal entries from both Johnathan Jennings and Sarah Jennings are carefully woven together. Their lives, heartaches, and triumphs spill forth on their pages – with Sarah struggling through the horror of her life and the rest of her family (father, mother, brother Simon at 15, twin sisters Rebecca and Deborah at 9) as they plod their way West.
The resounding hope of WEST is that their journals will finally be brought together, and hopefully what remains of their family.