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Book Review: River People by Margaret Lukas

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

This is a remarkable novel. I wasn’t certain how engaged I would be in a story about two young women trying to survive in a shack on the Missouri River in post-civil war Nebraska, but it didn’t take long for me to be caught up in their epic struggle to survive in a man’s world.

The author’s mastery of details on every aspect of 19th century life from farming to education to transportation to race and gender relationships was impressive. There are many scenes (like the horrific description of a wild stallion being broken) that would be unbelievable if they weren’t rendered with such authority.

The two young women, Effie who is eighteen and forced to marry a disturbed itinerant preacher and twelve-year old Bridget a “half-orphan” who the preacher “adopts” are left on their own to survive in a shack that is nothing more than a hunting shed. Effie haunted by her own demons and innocent Bridget who still holds on to her belief that she will find her parents “out west” have a realistically contentious relationship. This is truly a survival story with many poignant moments. The scenes between Bridget and her beloved friend, Jake the ox, are heartbreaking. Yes, an ox.

Highly recommended.

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