Melody Schreiber's Reviews > The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
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's review
Dec 13, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: review_copy, reviewed
Read from December 11 to 13, 2011

This is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and a welcome addition to my collection of well-loved pioneer stories.

This book covers so much ground: race, class, women’s rights, war. It’s as though Little House on the Prairie grew up and developed a racially and culturally aware conscience. African-American homesteaders are rare enough in pioneer literature, but Weisgarber doesn’t stop with the inevitable racial tension that follows the DuPrees; she places these pioneers in the tumultuous years leading up to World War II, when African-Americans flooded cities and race riots ensued.

Weisgarber adds a further level of complexity by mixing in the uneasy status of Native Americans, whom Isaac DuPree detests but who help Rachel in her greatest hour of need. As if that’s not enough, Weisgarber centers the tale around a woman’s decision to stand up to an insensitive and overly ambitious husband–not an easy thing for a barely literate African-American rancher’s wife in the early twentieth century to do.

I grew up loving pioneer stories, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Janette Oke to Willa Cather. The freedom promised by the solitary plains tempted me as a young girl surrounded by siblings, and the ambition and willpower it took homesteaders to eke out a living on the wild prairie inspired me to aim for the impossible as well.

Rachel struggles, in the story, with summoning the strength to survive the harsh summer and coming winter; to care for her children, both born and unborn; and to preserve a marriage built on ambitious expectation. She struggles to reconcile her dreams for her life and the reality that she is given. Ultimately, she finds the strength to do the right thing. It’s probably not what Willa Cather or Laura Ingalls Wilder would have done… and that’s why Rachel’s story is so riveting. Will Rachel stay with the man she has loved since she first set eyes on him, or will she give back to their children the childhood that is slipping from their grasp?

Rachel is a well-developed character, riven but not paralyzed by a decision that will change her life and the lives of her children. She is personable, and her voice feels authentic. The book’s layers of complexity unfold with perfect pacing, and the book never misses a step. In case you didn’t notice, I highly recommend it!

For a full review, visit my book review blog, Melody & Words!

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