Staying alive

A review of To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown

You know what is really horrifying? THE DONNER PARTY. Good heavens. History has distilled this story down to one grotesque detail (spoiler alert: cannibalism) (VERY RELUCTANT cannibalism, but still), but what you may have forgotten is the long journey across country on foot that led up to it. Or the harsh conditions on that final stretch. Or the weeks of slow starvation. Or how close to their desination they were when they got so hopelessly snowbound and lost. 

To Stay Alive is a meticulously researched, but ultimately fictionalized account of the Donner Party's journey through the eyes of real life survivor, 19-year-old Mary Ann Graves. It follows Mary Ann's story from her family's hopeful departure from Illinois, to her arrival in California, sick and traumatized. Her story is told in immersive, atmospheric verse that dances through the highs and INCREDIBLY low lows of this ill-fated journey, and is a great jumping off point for discussions of ethics and the instinct for survival. Not for the squeamish, but a page turner if you can stomach it.

Note: READ THE AFTERWARD. OMG. I want a whole novel about the first paragraph of the afterward.