Themes Explored: independence, stubbornness, perseverance, pioneering, adventure, family, ranching, heartbreak, war, sharpshooting, entrepreneurship, societal expectations, romance, love, endurance
Synopsis: An American saga about Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier. Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon she records her turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: Inspired by Nancy Turner’s great-grandmother, These is My Words follows Sarah Agnes Prine from 1881 to 1901. I stumbled upon this novel during a library run. If I recall correctly, my mother checked it out and recommended that I give it a go. This is one of the only novels that made me emotional, I nearly cried at the end. And that has only happened five times in my life. Personally, I think the story is absorbing and the writing is fantastic. This is an interesting tale about a young woman trying to survive the hardships of frontier life. Sarah is an unusual girl for the time period: headstrong, a sharpshooter, and yearning for an education. The novel is unique because it is written in journal format. When Sarah begins journaling, her grammar and spelling verge on the illiterate. However, her prose grows more polished as she works on her education.
This fictionalized diary vividly details Sarah’s struggles with life and love in frontier Arizona at the end of the last century. Sarah is an intelligent, headstrong 18-year-old capable of holding her own. Her rifle skills allow her fend off a barrage of Indian attacks and outlaw assaults. This also attracts the attention of a handsome Army Captain named Jack Elliot. By the age of 21, Sarah entered into a loveless marriage, established a profitable ranch, had a child, and buried her husband. A majority of the rest of the book details Sarah’s relationship with Jack. As she matures, Sarah’s writing generally grows in eloquence and polish. While the choppy writing in the beginning may frustrate some readers, it is a useful plot device. The gradual progression of the writing style showcases Sarah’s growth and helps establish her changing frame of mind. This results in a wonderful portrait of a strong willed pioneer in the Old West.
As a heroine. Sarah possesses several admirable traits. She is independent, capable of defending herself, strong, and fiercely loyal to her family. Though she is not without her flaws; her biggest one being stubbornness. There are several instances where she gets herself in trouble because she refuses to ask for help. However, all these instants make Sarah a relatable and admirable character. I always appreciate a well-developed heroine who is strong yet also feminine. Sometimes heroines tend to either be extremely passive or overly masculine. It is rare occurrence where the female lead is a nearly perfect combination of bravado and femininity. Though this is probably because the novel is based on a real person, so Turner did not have to create Sarah from scratch. And Jack is the perfect foil for Sarah. He is more than happy to let Sarah do her own thing but he is always there in case she needs assistance. Also, he supports her desire to be taken seriously as a business woman. Considering the time period, he is a rather progressive hero.
Since the narrative spans twenty years, we see Sarah go through several tragedies and accomplishments. She is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and widow. And she is disappointed with life and love. The narrative shows that Sarah is a woman who refuses to give up. Despite all her hardships, Sarah never loses her belief that things will improve. And the book is not without humor. There is one scene in particular where Sarah tries to deposit money in a bank and no one believes that she earned it herself. That may not sound funny but it is written superbly. Also, all the historical details are wonderfully rendered. History is much more interesting when seen through the eyes someone who lived during that time period. These is My Words manages to combine historical details with a compelling emotional narrative. I really cannot think of any negative aspects to the novel. All the main characters are well-developed and the story moves at a fairly quick pace. If you can make it pass the rather choppy beginning, the book is worth reading until the end. Turner has written two other books further exploring Sarah’s life. However, the first book is the best.