I absolutely love historical fiction and read a lot of it; I love to learn history this way. I also enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller and non-fiction science.
I am absolutely in love with this book. It may have a strange, multi-genre concept, but it works in the most wonderful of ways. Meriwether Lewis, of the famed Lewis and Clark died along the Natchez Trace trail 1809 in a most mysterious way; with two bullet wounds that was ruled a suicide. This is a historic fact, but what Andra Watkins has done with this fact is an incredibly amazing story. Upon his death, Meriwether Lewis, or Merry as we get to know him, believes he is a failure. He did not get to publish is expedition journals and he failed to excel in the governmental position he was given, the governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, the position that James Wilkinson was kicked out of. Now, Merry is stuck in the Nowhere, a kind a purgatory where he must successfully complete a mission in the real world in order to move on. Merry has failed 12 missions, number 13 will be his last chance. Mission 13 concerns nine year old Emmaline Cagney in the year 1977. Emmaline has gone through a bitter custody battle where she saw her father ripped from her life by a rather odd Judge. Emmaline is forced to live by her mother's strict rules in a rather unusual setting where her mother wants her to serve tea to men with her dress unbuttoned. When the police and the Judge arrive to bust her mother's operation, Em's Aunt Bertie tells her to make a run for it and find her father in Nashville. Merry's quest is to take Emmaline from New Orleans to Nashville to reunite with her father, but he must outwit and outrun the strange Judge who want Emmaline for himself and face his own ghosts along the Natchez Trace.
First of all, Emmaline and Merry's characters and companionship are brilliant. Such a strange pair, but so well done. Andra Watkins writing takes you into the mindset and emotions of a nine year old girl and a thirty-five year old explorer so perfectly that it will break your heart. I had so many favorite quotes from this book to share;
"The door slammed, and it was like a clock stopped. Like I would never be older than that moment. Everything would always be 'Before Daddy' and 'After Daddy.' "
This is Em's defining moment, so perfectly wrapped up as a nine year old would see it. When Merry finds Em, his next assignment, she is desperately trying to outrun the Judge's men. He knows he must help her and gain her trust to complete his assignment. Merry has no idea what he is in for.
"I watched her face and cogitated the meaning behind her words. Imagined who-or what-her mother was, right before she told me. Not in so many words. A nine-year-old girl should never have to say her mother is a prostitute. But, she colored in the picture for me with broken crayons in damaged hues."
I loved the decision that the best way for Em and Merry to get to Nashville is to take the old Natchez Trace trail. Not only do we get to experience part of the trail, but Merry is forced, quite literally and figuratively to face old ghosts that he did not get to vanquish in his life. We also get to see a newly-painted portrait of just how great an explorer and outdoors-man Meriweather Lewis was, which brings him back to life in reader's eyes.
" The Trace was a tunnel through time. Sunlight cast shadows through the timber, and a squirrel scampered across the trail ahead of us. I breathed in the rich smell of earth and rotting leaves and tried to remember what it felt like to lead. To be fearless, decisive. To guide another person through the unknown."
The Judge's character, a villain for both Merry and Emmaline was a great addition. His use of the Nowhere and his quest to seek Emmaline is such a juxtaposition to Merry, that he is the perfect antagonist. Also, Emmaline's descriptions of him are so spot-on, that when I looked up the real James Wilkinson, he was just as I had pictured. Em and Merry's journey is is insightful, adventurous, dangerous, hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time. I would think anyone who enjoys historical fiction, coming-of-age, paranormal or just plain, old good writing would enjoy this story.
See more about To Live Forever on blog tour at stephaniesbookreviews.weebly.com on April 24th.
I am also going to use this book for Spring Bookish Bingo! It has a green cover, a bird on the cover, flowers on the cover and has a child narrator! I think I'm going to use it for child narrator for now since I don't think I have any other books that would really fit 'child' narrator. Emmaline is probably the best fit, since she is nine.