Rated Reads

True Sisters

by Sandra Dallas

Rated: Mild

When this book came into the store last week, they all looked at the jacket flap copy, said “It’s Mormon,” and then looked pointedly in my direction. I took a look at the book, said “It’s the Martin Handcart Company,” and took one home.

See, my ancestors — my grandmother’s grandmother, I think — went across the plains with the Martin Handcart company. I listened to my grandmother tell me stories of hardship and survival. It’s part of my heritage. And even though I’ve never picked up a Sandra Dallas book in my life (um, she’s popular, right?), I needed to see what this woman — someone who is outside of my “tribe,” for lack of a better word — was going to do with my heritage.

The basic story is that of the Martin Handcart Company: a group of immigrants from Great Britain (and Scandinavia, a fact Dallas omitted, much to my disappointment) who, for economic reasons, made and pushed handcarts across the plains from Iowa to Utah. It was an ill-fated trip from the start: the handcarts were made of green wood and weren’t very sturdy; they left late; and winter in Wyoming came early. Out of the 650 that started, more than 100 died before making it to Salt Lake City.

Dallas focuses on four women: Anne, whose husband is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but who has refused to join the church herself; Jessie, an unmarried woman with two brothers making the trip on their own; Ella, a pregnant woman who is crossing with her husband and sister; and Louisa, a young wife of one of the company’s leaders. Their stories never really intersect — I kind of was expecting them to, given the title — but, rather, the narrative switches to follow each one as they cross the plains and experience trials and hardships and setbacks and miracles.

While it wasn’t a great novel — Dallas never really got much tension going, and it seemed as if she was just checking things off a list (Mention Joseph Smith? Check. Polygamy? Check. Hardship and Suffering? Check.) — it was a good one, and she did treat the Mormons sympathetically. I liked how she had characters along the whole spectrum of faith: men who were overbearing and overly zealous to men who were sympathetic and supportive; women who were doubters, ones who were strong (both physically and mentally), and ones who were blindly following their husbands. It gave a more nuanced picture of our faith; unlike the way many books have portrayed Mormons in the past, we are neither all always gung-ho about the edicts we’ve been given, nor are we all dissenters. And that, in itself, was refreshing.

It’s not a great book, but it’s a good one, something I wasn’t expecting.

Rated: Mild. There are a few references to being damned and hell (the place), and to the physical suffering, but no actual swearing.

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

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  • True Sisters
  • by Sandra Dallas
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: