Debra Terry Hulet
Cedar Fort, 2011
Reviewed by Karen Hamilton for the Association for Mormon Letters
Katie McBride is a fifteen-year-old who has a life that no one should
have to endure. Her Dad left years ago and her Mom is a
physical-spiritual-mental-emotional abuser who also is an alcoholic.
After being out late Katie’s Mom vents all of her frustration, rage and
hate on Katie and still finds a way to blame her for all of her
When it finally comes to the point that Katie won’t be a punching bag
for her mom any more, Katie ends up in Juvenile Court. Her Mom calls the
police and has her charged with causing bodily harm to her mother. The
judge assigned to her case is anything but conventional. Judge Bellows
gives Katie a choice: two months in a juvenile detention center or a
two-week handcart trek. Katie decides to join the trek and be with “the
goody good kids” for two weeks.
As she begins packing for her sentence of a handcart trek, Katie wonders
if there really is someone who answers prayers and scoffs at herself for
wondering. Then as she is searching for her favorite earring that fell
to the floor she finds an old journal under the floor in her bedroom. It
takes a while before the date registers as June 20, 1848 and that it is
written to a Dear Someone. At the last minute Katie decides to bring the
journal on the trek with her.
The trek starts out with major cultural shock for Katie. After all, the
kids she knows smoke, drink, and do drugs; there’s also the language
that comes with the territory. At six thirty in the morning Katie shows
up with her bucket of belongings and goes through the usual check for
contraband and assignment to a handcart family. Here Katie is faced with
adults who seem to be stuck in the seventies and its peculiar phrases.
The woman who offended her mother over six years ago is the “Ma” of the
happy little family of handcart 22. The rest of the family is made up of
teenager who have a set opinion of her and aren’t overly happy having
her in the group. Katie is not looking forward to the next two weeks.
Katherine May McBride is the author of the journal that Katie finds
under her bedroom floor. She is crossing the plains with her son,
friends, her husband's old Nurse/Surrogate Mother and an admirer. As she
makes her way towards Zion, Katherine is trying to put her heart back
together and find a way to be happy without her husband, Michael, who
died before the exodus from Nauvoo. As the trail gets longer and life
goes on around her, Katherine feels a pull on her spirit and wonders who
she needs to make a connection with. She begins to write how her faith
is helping her and how the Lord is always mindful of her. As the wagon
train reaches what is now known as Independence Rock, she knows who she
has been writing to in her journal. Katherine May McBride leaves a final
message to Katie in a hidden crevice.
This was a fun read. The way the connection is built and the influence
it has on modern Katie is profound. For someone who has no support at
home and is trying to be good, despite circumstances, finding a
connection to anyone is important. Katie has feelings that most
teenagers have felt to various degrees and will be able to relate to the
The one part that I did not like was the abrupt time shifts. Because
modern Katie was going on a Handcart trek, the first time the time
periods changed proved to be a bit confusing. Young Katie is dealing
with people talking about her, as is Pioneer Katherine (who at times is
also called Katie). The time shifts become smoother the more you read
and don’t require as much concentration to keep up.
I am recommending this book to everyone who loves a good story. It is
one that will appeal to several generations of readers. Independence
Rock is a blend of two distinct time periods and shows how much the past
can influence the present. Plus. if you are named for a family member,
there may be a connection between you and them!