Passing Strange: The Overland Trail, 1852 by Kathrin Rudland
Passing Strange is a terrific historical fiction novel that takes you on a heart-racing journey through America’s dangerous Western frontier. The story chronicles a widowed woman’s arduous trek on the Overland Trail and the personal growth she experiences in the crucible years of women’s emancipation. Although it is a work of fiction, author Kathrin Rudland does a superb job telling a realistic story through researching diaries, memoirs, and journals from the prairies and plains of the 19th century.
The novel begins as the protagonist experiences the devastating loss of her husband at the beginning of the Overland Trail in 1852. Determined to fulfill his plan to build a school in Oregon, she travels in an ox-driven covered wagon with a large coffin filled with books, unaware thousands of gold coins lay hidden in the flour bin. Knowing that it is far too dangerous to travel alone, she hires a weary, older scout to safely escort her on the two-thousand-mile trail.
Her compelling journey leads her to life-threatening encounters, desperate situations that demand tremendous strength, and an erratic cast of characters. Some of the most memorable include: a pregnant steamboat survivor, a mysterious preacher, an abused runaway girl, a malaria-ridden writer, an unhinged man, a photographer of the dead, and Native Americans. Throughout her fast-paced adventures that include a quicksand-filled river, blinding storms, arduous mountains, and brutal deserts, she secretly records her innermost thoughts in a Commonplace Book.
Unlike the heroic and noble pioneer stories with events written by men, this is not a tale of a woman’s limitations. Rather, it is one that demonstrates her strength, courage, and resilience to succeed. The entire novel is written with tremendous detail and spirit as it takes you back in time to a fascinating period of American history in which brave souls risked their lives on an unforgiving trail in hopes of achieving a better future. Overall, the book beautifully conveys two journeys – one literal and another symbolic. It is a journey of hardship and danger across the plains and an older woman’s journey of growth to gradual independence. If you are a fan of the hit Paramount show 1883, you will love Kathrin Rudland’s novel!