Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: A Light in the Wilderness

A Light in the Wilderness
By Jane Kirkpatrick
Revell, 2014


Letitia holds nothing more dear than the papers that prove she is no longer a slave. They may not cause most white folks to treat her like a human being, but at least they show she is free. She trusts in those words she cannot read--as she is beginning to trust in Davey Carson, an Irish immigrant cattleman who wants her to come west with him.

Nancy Hawkins is loathe to leave her settled life for the treacherous journey by wagon train, but she is so deeply in love with her husband and she knows she will follow him anywhere--even when the trek exacts a terrible cost.

Betsy is a Kalapuya Indian, the last remnant of a once proud tribe in the Willamette Valley in Oregon territory. She spends her time trying to impart the wisdom and ways of her people to her grandson. But she will soon have another person to care for.

As season turns to season, suspicion turns to friendship, and fear turns to courage, three spirited women will discover what it means to be truly free in a land that makes promises it cannot fulfill. This multilayered story from bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick will grip your heart and mind as you travel on the dusty and dangerous Oregon Trail into the boundless American West. Based on a true story.

My thoughts

Letitia's story needed to be told and Jane Kirkpatrick is the one to tell it. I've read enough of Jane's novels to know that readers can trust her to create an accurate story through meticulous research, and turn it into a compelling read through the eyes of fiction. Letitia's story is one of courage and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, faith in God, and a most satisfying triumphant ending.

"She had imagined the day she would escape; it would be high noon when people least expected them to run, when the dogs lay panting in the Kentucky sun and the patrols rested, not seeking a colored woman making her way to freedom."

The first sentence captures the heart of Letitia. A Light in the Wilderness is the moving and poignant story of Letitia Carson, a little-known African-American pioneer - one of the first black women to cross the Oregon Trail in 1845, giving birth along the way. Characterization is strong and the setting is vividly conveyed, but I think the story's main strength is that Letitia is a character to which everyone can relate. It was easy to connect with what she was feeling, seeing, and experiencing - from her desire to be recognized as free to her need to be treated as a partner and a person of worth. I loved her thoughts about the wisdom of relocating:  "She wasn't sure what drew people from their homelands to the unknown, what certainty they felt compelled to set aside for the imaginations of a future believed to be somehow in a 'better place.' There could be no better place than where one was . . ."

Letitia was free, yet treated as a slave; married, but not in the eyes of the law. It's always hard to read about man's cruelty to certain races or classes of people, and that is vividly pictured in this novel. Every time I see the word "exclusion" from now on, it will bring Letitia's story to mind. And I can't help but wonder, have we really come all that far today?

I enjoyed the Author's Note section at the end, and wanted to share Jane's words concerning the personal impact of A Light in the Wilderness:  "I discovered the nature of freedom in the midst of chains and the strength of character it takes to persevere through the bondage of the spirit and the law. Safety is a state of mind, a matter of faith."

I enjoyed A Light in the Wilderness and recommend it to all who enjoy well-crafted historical fiction.

A Light in the Wilderness can be purchased online at, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.

Jane Kirkpatrick

Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the coveted Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have been finalists for the Christy Award, Spur Award, Oregon Book Award, and Reader's Choice awards, and have won the WILLA Literary Award and Carol Award for Historical Fiction. Many of her titles have been Book of the Month and Literary Guild selections. Jane lives in Central Oregon with her husband, Jerry.

Connect with Jane online at, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Thank you to Revell for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


  1. Oh wow… Jane Kirkpatrick! I have read many of her books and have them in my treasured books collection at home.I can already tell that this is a "must read" book.I am going to try to find it and begin reading it!I love your book review and thoughts on this story.You have never led me astray on the books that I have read from your site and per your suggestions.

  2. What a lovely review! thank you for sharing your thoughts about Letitia's story. I totally agree that she could be any one of us as freedom, bondage, safety, are all aspects of the human condition and our search for meaning. At least I see that as so. I'm so pleased you made room in your heart for this story and feel confident in recommending it to others. Thank you so much.