A Light in the Wilderness

Written by Jane Kirkpatrick
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Gaining her freedom from slavery in 1843 is the beginning of a new struggle for Letitia. It’s too hazardous for the young woman to stay in Kentucky, where patrollers can demand to see her freedom papers at any time, and commit her to slavery again on a whim. Missouri is no friendlier, so when Letitia hears that Oregon is likely to be a free state when it joins the Union, she resolves to cross the Plains as part of the great migration westward.

Davey Carson, a crusty Irish immigrant, is neither young nor handsome, but he treats Letitia with respect and provides her with a place to stay. She can’t officially wed him, but if she acts as Davey’s wife, he promises to provide for Letitia in his will. Persistence finally gets Davey to produce that invaluable paper, and the Carsons join a wagon train headed west. Letitia has no delusions – the trip will be difficult because of her advancing pregnancy, and the unrelenting prejudice from most of the travelers. However, Letitia knows that a soft answer can change the hearts of people who casually treat her as a slave, and her skill as a midwife brings acceptance from many of her fellow travelers. Letitia can only hope to find the same acceptance in her new home.

A Light in the Wilderness is Jane Kirkpatrick’s latest offering. I’ve enjoyed other novels by Kirkpatrick and was delighted by this gem. Her scenes are vivid, she handles race and prejudice with sensitivity, and while vernacular speech can sometimes be overwhelming, I was especially pleased by Kirkpatrick’s deft touch. Highly recommended.