I was gifted a copy of Westering Women by Sandra Dallas from St. Martin’s Press in order to participate in a book tour. This was the first time I’ve been a part of a book tour and I really felt bad when the book I was reading was problematic & flat, because I couldn’t hold up my end of the bargain with the book tour with positivity & light.
The characters were flat and the pacing was slow. But beyond that, I felt uncomfortable with the problematic amounts of racism, misogyny, and abuse that were everywhere in the novel.
The background of this novel is that a group of women, escorted by two reverends, leave Chicago to find husbands in California. Our main character is Maggie, who is fleeing her abusive husband with her daughter, Clara. The entire novel follows the women on their harrowing journey across the United States – and all of these women have some secrets that get revealed throughout the novel.
While I was reading the book, I experienced a NUMBER of uncomfortable feelings & had really interesting conversations with friends about the moral obligation of historical fiction. This particular book upheld the stereotype that all Native Americans are “savages.” It had only one character of color with a name — and this character was lied to throughout the entire book about her parentage. Every man in the book (except one or two) was an absolute piece of garbage who abused their wives or raped their children while drunk.
I totally get that in the era, women were powerless to leave their abusers, were taken advantage of. I understand that to the travelers on the Overland Trail, Native Americans were seen as savages. I understand the context of this novel. What I don’t get is WHY another novel that perpetuates these notions was published by a major publisher in 2020.
We need to be more critical of the content we consume. I am pushing to get more #OwnVoices novels into my school library AND into my own reading life. This book is unfair to the marginalized voices in this story. I am constantly trying to be a better ally, educator, parent, and reader — and this book is NOT one I can recommend if you want to be the same.