Terri's Reviews > The Devil's Paintbox

The Devil's Paintbox by Victoria McKernan
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Jan 11, 10

it was amazing

** spoiler alert ** In anticipation of the announcement of the 2010 Printz Award (and others), I went through all of the Mock Printz finalist lists and looked for anything that I might have missed. I looked at the cover of this one (a total dud) and looked at the genre (historical fiction) and was tempted to pass it up - but I kept seeing rave reviews from those involved in Mock Printz competitions, so I decided to give it a go!

The story begins in Kansas in 1865, post Civil War. Aiden and Maddy Lynch have lost their parents, and all of their siblings. Left in their sod hut alone, they are starving to death when Jefferson J. Jackson happens along looking for potential loggers to join the wagon train he is leading to Seattle, Washington. Against his own better judgment, he agrees to take Aiden and Maddy along - the price of their passage is Aiden's work in a logging camp in Seattle (one year for each of them). Along the way, they meet soldiers infected with smallpox, wolves, snakes, floods, Native Americans, and more. A Nez Perce Indian, Tupic, saves Aiden from drowning, and this is the beginning of a steadfast friendship. Many lives are lost along the way - and this boy and girl shortly become adults as they take on adult responsibilities, decisions, and tragedies. This is a well-researched novel, and gives the reader insight into pioneer life, the conflict between the white man and Native Americans, the smallpox epidemic, the logging industry, the impact of the Civil War, etc. The plot is intense and action-packed. It is not for the weak of stomach or heart!

The characters are well-developed and unforgettable. The reader invests in them and what happens to them. The novel seems, somehow unfinished. What really happened to Maddy? Her body is never found, so her destiny is left unfinished. Are Marguerite and the Reverend who they purport to be? Will Tupic get the vaccine to his tribe? And, once Aiden is released from his obligation to the owner of the logging company, Gilivrey, where will he go? Will he meet up again with those he met on the wagon train? "The Devil's Paintbox" is ripe for a sequel. If this is a stand alone, I would see this as a criticism. There are many things that are hinted at but never resolved in the book.

There are many lessons to be learned here: we control our own destinies, there are moments of perfection in all of our lives, we all have issues but choose to deal with them in different ways, the cycle of life, friendship, loyalty, the role of women and the possibilities we afford them, relations between whites and Native Americans, goodness in humanity, the power of nature, courage, etc.

The book is recommended for grades 7-10. I think because of the detailed violence, talk of sex (nothing gratuitous), drinking to deal with problems, etc. it is more suitable for an older audience (9-12?).
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