The book starts mid-journey on the Oregon Trail in 1847. An accident kills Marjory Turner’s father, leaving her to care for her sickly mother and three very small siblings. The wagon train captain assigns young Walt Wilkins to help drive the Turners as far as the nearest army fort, where they can wait for the next group going back East. But when Ft. Bridger is found mysteriously empty, they must continue on. Her mother’s increasing headaches and the rigors of the trail complicate a budding romance with Walt.
Thomas creates a realistic, complex relationship between Marjory and her mother. Marjory thinks her mother was jealous of her close relationship with her father. Her mother is reluctant to confide in Marjory, who resents being treated as a child. She is puzzled by her mother’s distant behavior, not knowing whether it is due to her illness, or personality quirks caused by grief. Thomas did research in period medical books and successfully portrays the state of frontier medical knowledge. A little more polish on the relationship between Marjory and Walt would lift a good historical romance into the “great” category.