The Quilt Walk

Written by Sandra Dallas
Review by Cecelia Holland

In 1863, with the Civil War raging, ten-year-old Emmy Blue and her parents start across the plains toward a new life in Golden, Colorado. The way – much traveled now, 20 years after the first pioneers went West – is still long and hard, and to get through it Emmy’s mother proposes they work on a quilt as they walk, sewing a piece a day. Emmy at first has no use for such tedious work, but as she travels through the wild and dangerous country, she learns the value of taking good stitches, and finishing the job. In the end, the family reaches Golden, and Emmy Blue has grown both older and wiser.

The novel is full of well-researched details. The space in their wagon is so close that Emmy and her mother have no room for their clothes, so they wear all their dresses at once. Buttermilk John, their guide, is a representative sample of the mountain men who went from trapping beaver to guiding greenhorns through the wilderness. The settlers’ wagons are forever breaking down, and must be mended, hundreds of miles from any wagon shops. The food is awful. The dust is worse.

The problem is that Dallas has not allowed her characters to inhabit any of this. It happens, and they watch, but there’s no sense of them actually experiencing it. The emotions are curiously muted, distant; perhaps Dallas, writing her first book for young adults, wanted to shield her audience from the savage reality. The trek west was a mix of boredom and utter terror. The Quilt Walk could have done with more terror, and less boredom.