To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party

Skila Brown / Jul 21, 2019

To Stay Alive Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party Told in riveting keenly observed poetry a moving first person narrative as experienced by a young survivor of the tragic Donner Party of The journey west by wagon train promises to be long and

  • Title: To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party
  • Author: Skila Brown
  • ISBN: 9780763678111
  • Page: 122
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Told in riveting, keenly observed poetry, a moving first person narrative as experienced by a young survivor of the tragic Donner Party of 1846.The journey west by wagon train promises to be long and arduous for nineteen year old Mary Ann Graves and her parents and eight siblings Yet she is hopeful about their new life in California freedom from the demands of family, maTold in riveting, keenly observed poetry, a moving first person narrative as experienced by a young survivor of the tragic Donner Party of 1846.The journey west by wagon train promises to be long and arduous for nineteen year old Mary Ann Graves and her parents and eight siblings Yet she is hopeful about their new life in California freedom from the demands of family, maybe some romance, better opportunities for all But when winter comes early to the Sierra Nevada and their group gets a late start, the Graves family, traveling alongside the Donner and Reed parties, must endure one of the most harrowing and storied journeys in American history Amid the pain of loss and the constant threat of death from starvation or cold, Mary Ann s is a narrative, told beautifully in verse, of a girl learning what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and above all to persevere.

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    • To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party Skila Brown
      122 Skila Brown
    • thumbnail Title: To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party Skila Brown
      Posted by:Skila Brown
      Published :2018-010-04T09:16:16+00:00

    About "Skila Brown"

      • Skila Brown

        Skila Brown is the author of verse novels Caminar and To Stay Alive, as well as the picture book Slickety Quick Poems About Sharks, all with Candlewick Press She received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.


    1. Like her earlier novel in verse, Caminar, this book is about a true historical disaster, the Donner Party. Brown skillfully uses poetry, in different forms, to convey the range of emotions of one family, the Graves family, as they journey west with the Donner Party. What these people suffered before they ever reached Donner Pass was unbelievable. I don't know if I could have withstood the sore feet, exhaustion, hunger, thirst, sweating, freezing, never bathing, and fear that these people endured [...]

    2. Definitely keep this historical fiction title in mind for displays and book lists related to the theme of "Nevertheless, she persisted." The desperation by the end made my teeth chatter. Wilderness survival adventure told in verse from the point of view of 19 year-old Mary Ann Graves who made the 1846-1847 journey west with the Donner Party. Everything about this feels more YA than middle grade to me: the narrative style, the cover, the age of the main character, the real life horror that led to [...]

    3. Some of the most beautiful writing I've read this year, these poems tell the story of Mary Ann's family's journey west towards California and their fight for survival when the snow comes and they're trapped. Knowing what happens to the Donner party just makes the story fraught with tension as you start getting attached to the different people Mary Ann knows and you wonder who will survive and who won't.Any book that can make me cry at work is legit.

    4. Pasted right from the kids' books blog I share with my daughter: bookhogsbookblog.wordpress/This is a novel told in verse. It takes a few pages to get used you to but then you don’t even realize except you are flying through the pages.The subject of the story is a family’s journey across the America from Illinois to California in 1846. The main character is from the Graves family who was part of the wagon train of the famous Donner Party who tragically got stranded in the mountains during an [...]

    5. I picked up this book because the cover was so beautiful that I had to look at it more closely, and when I saw it was about the Donner Party I didn't even hesitate. (I know, I'm so morbid. XD) When I finally got around to reading it, I was surprised that the story was written as a series of poems (a bit like Brown Girl Dreaming, which I also loved), and it was a pretty quick read because the poems generally don't fill a full page. It was very thought-provoking and moving and well-done. I highly [...]

    6. Six word summary: Do we eat him? We gotta.Loved: The story through poems allowed for creative layouts in the text that really added to the emotional setting. Recommend for: History fans who love interesting stories, preferably if you like poetic formatting.Reminds me of: Milk and Honey meets the Oregon Trail game.

    7. Beautifully written novel in verse about Mary Ann Graves, who was a real-life member of the Donner Party. I read this in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. Definitely inspired strong feelings of horror and awe.

    8. A historic western was nice change of pace, but I would have preferred it in regular story mode. Books written in poetry really need to flow in order for me to enjoy. This one was a little too disjointed. It did have an afterward that I always think are interesting DNF @30 of 275

    9. I remember hearing about the Donner Party when I was my students' age. The thought of what those pioneers endured sent shivers down my spine. However, I, like most children, had many facts wrong. To Stay Alive seeks to not only correct some misconceptions, but also to flesh out (no pun intended) what MIGHT have happened in between the gaps of diary entries and letters. I found this book both riveting and hard to read simultaneously; often I had to put the book down and do something else in order [...]

    10. 4.5 stars-Haunting and with truth. A sad story told with tons of emotion that at times made me feel right there with them, trenching through the snow and not looking back.

    11. First sentence: It is finished.Premise/plot: I've got two sets of 'two words' that will either compel you to pick this one up or to avoid it. For better or worse. First: DONNER PARTY. Second: VERSE NOVEL. Mary Ann Graves is the narrator of this historical verse novel. She was nineteen at the start of the journey in the spring of 1846. This one is divided into seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter. Almost all of the poems involve the traveling west and surviving aspect of the pioneer spirit. The [...]

    12. A compelling historical novel in verse about the famed (and tragic) Donner party. The focus, though, is on Mary Ann Graves, one of the younger women in the group traveling from Lacon, IL, to California. This is the kind of book that will have big appeal to those who like stories of the west, of historical travel, and fans of books like Little House on the Prairie (with quite a bit less racism, though in the context of this book specifically, it's a historically accurate portrayal of settlers mee [...]

    13. 4 Stars Gritty, real, horrifying, hopeful. These are the words that can be used to describeTo Stay Alive , which tells in short poems the fictionalized yet true story of Mary Ann Graves, a member of the tragic Donner Party.Brown tells the story as it is. While she manages to keep it engaging, she never sensationalizes, which really draws out the bleakness and monotony that these pioneers faced. It doesn't make the story dull. In fact, it manages to maintain the integrity of the nonfiction aspect [...]

    14. Very well excecuted and incredibly compelling (thanks to the writing and the format of the book). The author did a marvelous job conveying the despair of Mary Ann and her traveling companions. Good for reluctant readers, but only ones who can handle the cannibalism towards the end (a very small portion of the book, though there is foreshadowing and prior knowledge to elude to where the story is going). The author's handling of cannibalism was so well done--readers will understand it was a heart- [...]

    15. 4 1/2 stars.This review does contain spoilers!I’ve only just recently gotten into reading more books that are written in verse, after I read Ellen Hopkin’s masterpiece Crank years ago, and I’ve always found that though they are easier to read in one or two sittings, they are able to hold and describe such heavy material with such grace and ease. To Stay Alive is another key example of this, as Skila Brown uses poetry to describe Mary Ann Graves’s journey with the Donner Party to the Cali [...]

    16. Using a free verse style, the author tells the story of nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves, her parents, and eight siblings who joined a wagon train headed west from Illinois in 1846 hoping for new opportunities. Unfortunately, they became part of the infamous Donner Party. Mary Ann, an actual survivor of the doomed group, describes how her family and others became victims of freezing temperatures and starvation. The events leading to the tragedy were compelling - I didn't realize how easily this [...]

    17. When I was in 7th grade I had to take Utah history. Mr. Whitlock. Riverview Junior High. I don't remember anything else from that class but this one video he had us watch that was all about the Donner Party. I was equal parts mesmerized and horrified. I guess you could say that I had a similar reaction to this book, also about the Donner Party. I don't think I ever would have picked it up if it had not been recommended by a good friend. It is a hauntingly, beautiful book about one of the women o [...]

    18. To Stay Alive: The story of Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party was a very emotional read. Just like the title says, the story is incredibly tragic, but it is told so beautifully. The prose is situated on the page in a way that you can almost get an idea of what Mary Ann and other pioneers felt while they were making the journey West. Even the really disturbing parts about cannibalism and all the death were still somehow beautifully conveyed. I don’t read a lot of histor [...]

    19. I kind of really liked this story -- done well, a novel-in-verse delivers a powerful message.I could almost identify with Mary Ann, getting ready for a long journey, excited about her new traveling dress. It's like planning for a road trip, all kinds of excitement mixed with anticipation and a little nervousness. And then you get on the road and it's finally real! And THEN you're a couple hours in and the shininess starts rubbing off. Kids start crabbing, things start smelling, the car starts fe [...]

    20. I will admit, I am not a huge fan of poetry but as I like history I wanted to read this book. The first thing I noticed was the layout which was very creative and kept each page interesting. I flipped to the back of the book which gave a small history of the ordeal and fates of the individuals. I then skimmed a few pages within the body of the book and landed on one near the end that was quite sad (and a little shocking). I decided at that point to start at the beginning and read the progression [...]

    21. I was a little nervous to read a poetry book this year and honestly I was dreading it. To Stay Alive was a beautifully written book. The Graves journey into the West was a heart breaking and a page turning expedition. I really loved the way this book was written, it was almost like I could feel the main characters pain and loss through the pages. Some of the details of the Graves trip I had never even knew had happened, such as that they got so hungry that they were forced to eat the people who [...]

    22. This book was beautifully written and terrible to read all at the same time. If you are familiar with this piece of history you know the outcomes and know how the story will end. However, you are waitingwaitingwaiting for what you know is coming. Skila Brown does a wonderful job with this topic and I love the style she uses on such a difficult subject. I liked that the characters were real people, and seeing it from Mary Ann's point of view was very different. This story left me exhausted, shock [...]

    23. "The men think they’re following a trail But I know."(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for cannibalism and domestic violence.)There’s only a little gap between rain and snow, an open window of sunshine to go, it all must be timed just right or it will go all wrong, like a cup of tea that slips from too hot to too cold without leaving enough time in between to drink it.###Imagine. He almost shot Charles, thinking he was food.###W [...]

    24. I don't know what reading this book would be like holding it my hands but having it read to me audio was heart wrenching. I would sit in my car before going into school and try to contain myself. This story is a hard one to forget. Mary Ann was too young and female to have any choice in what her father and the other men in the Donner Party decided to do when they traveled to California. Of course the women and children were the ones to die when the food ran out. This was a great piece of histori [...]

    25. I enjoyed this book because of the writing style. I feel like the story of the Donner Party is one that could really get bogged down with lots of details, and there's nothing wrong with that. This is just a different way of re-telling the story that, thanks to the writing style, moves along very quickly. If you aren't familiar with the story, you might have to head to Google, and because the story moves along quickly and without much depth, it's hard to keep track of some of the characters. Othe [...]

    26. Wow. Get ready to feel very depressed when finishing this. I mean, it's about the Donner Party, so that's probably expected?I think I ordered this almost a year ago because LOOK AT THE COVER. But when I started it, I just couldn't connect until about 70 pages in. After that, the tragedy of it all and the varying layouts of the poems (we all know this is in free verse, yeah?) kept me going. If you're a fan of novels in verse, I'd say give this a shot. Parts of it really were beautiful, even when [...]

    27. Poems made by hitting return a lot tell the story of Mary Ann of the Donner party as she crosses the prairies with her family, gets stuck in snow, crosses the mountains with the rescue party, eats most of the party, and then moves on with her life.I never really connected with the character. I think I was creeped out by the idea of putting these poems in the mouth of a real person -- why don't people just make up a character for this kind of fictional history? Side characters can be snitched fro [...]

    28. This is a Battle of the Books books in our junior high this year and I was tasked with reading it and creating questions. I really enjoyed it. It is poetry, but I think even those who don't particularly like poetry will still like the book. I read a review where someone mentioned that this book could be filed under the "Nevertheless she persisted" category. I agree. This is the story of a strong girl who through hard work and mental toughness survived an agonizing trip across the country to Cali [...]

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