The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt.
Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2010.

The Water Seeker chronicles the life of Amos through the 19th century pioneering West. His dad, Jake, is a dowser and mountain trapper, leaving first his wife, then his son, to trap beaver. When his mom dies giving birth to him, Amos is left with his aunt and uncle, then with neighbors when his aunt dies. Jake visits each year and finally brings him a Shoshone stepmother. When Amos turns 15, Jake accepts a job scouting for an Oregon trail guide. He, Amos, Blue Owl, and another aunt and uncle join the wagon train.

The story is a strong depiction of much of what is known about the Oregon Trail expeditions (and pioneer life), from excess baggage being dumped along the way to sudden mortal illnesses to the desperation brought on by adversity to disagreements about how to proceed. The cast of characters, especially Amos, are confronted by hardship after hardship, as Amos grows up. At the heart of the book is the basic goodness of people, most of them. Amos in particular is developing a good, strong character, despite mistakes, errors of judgment, and hurtful feelings through the years.

Through much of the story, Delilah's (his mother) spirit watches over his life, appearing to the females who care for him, until he is grown and has found his true love. Each female treats him in a different manner.

About 2/3 of the story is related to the Oregon Trail. The rest is Amos's young years and their settling in Oregon. All of it deals with Amos's growth as a person. He must accept severe losses of people he loves, a lack of stability in his life, and little attachment to others. On the trail, he learns to be close to people and accept them for who they are. He must make a risky decision for his family's benefit and stand up for his decision when others question it. He undergoes a change in how he sees a person a few times as well.

There are small touches like Delilah's spirit, Jake's strength of character, Aunt Daisy's joyfulness, and Aunt Rebecca's kindness that make this an enjoyable read. Like many historical novels, it is more of a leisurely experience. The whole thing is believable - characters and happenings. It feels like a real journal. My favorite parts are the numerous anecdotes themselves and the emotion conveyed in so much of the writing.

related-coming of age, fathers and sons, dowsing, overland journeys to the Pacific, frontier and pioneer life, Western United States, 19th century, Oregon Trail, wagon trains, personal loss and growth, adventure

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