1851, Overland Trail to California. As a baby, Callie was left on the doorstep of an isolated farmhouse in Tennessee. The Whitaker family took her in, but have always considered her more a servant than a daughter. Scorned by her two stepsisters, Callie is forced to work long hours and denied an education. But a new world opens to her when the Whitakers join a wagon train to California—guided by rugged Indian, Luke McGraw…
A loner, haunted by a painful past, Luke plans to return to the wilderness once his work is done. But he can’t help noticing how poorly Callie is treated—or how unaware she is of her beauty and intelligence. As the two become closer over the long trek west, Callie’s confidence grows. And when disaster strikes, Callie emerges as the strong one—and the woman Luke may find the courage to love at last…
Wagon Train Cinderella is one of those books that had a lot of enthusiasm and charm…but not really a lot of talent. I did enjoy the premise and, well, the heart of what it was trying to do, but the execution was like watching a middle school play. (Well, that’s not fair, I think it was shorter than a middle school production.)
I liked the idea of this book, both the basic premise and a lot of the smaller ideas in the storyline. Most of the characters were (in concept) very entertaining and the relationships they all had with each other created a nice, complex character backdrop. There were lots of different ways people interacted, and the book wasn’t hyper focused on one relationship (or one dynamic over many relationships). Callie had a different role with everyone she met, and I loved that. It was nice to see her struggle to deal with being cowed by her stepfather and clinging to the friendship of a new acquaintance and still feeling like a true character in both roles. The development of both Callie, the rest of her family, and all the relationships within was a great (idea) too.
It’s just…well, the problem comes in the execution. The writing in this novel is very stilted and juvenile, and there’s far too much telling going for me to get a real emotional experience out of it. I felt like I was reading the outline of someone’s personal character growth, not a finished story. Lots of lines felt clunky, and at times chunks of a person’s character were either entirely informed or contradictory. Luke kept being described as cold and standoffish, and yet from our very first meeting with him he’s nothing but helpful and cheeky. Maybe he was intended to be cold except to Callie, but it just doesn’t come through in the writing. Plus, setting the book on the Oregon Trail like that fractures what little plot we’ve got into vignettes about ‘hardships of traveling west.’ They were interesting vignettes, but all the same, I didn’t get a sense of cohesion from the book.
Overall, I did enjoy the reading experience, but mostly in an academic sort of way.
Rating: 3 out of 5