These Is My Words by Nancy E. TurnerReviewed by Ellen
Language: Only four or five swear words and one profanity.
Violence: Deadly fights between Indian tribes and white settlers abound in this book. Indians attack with bows and arrows and knives. White settlers fight back with guns. Some explicit details (arrows to the throat, innards falling out, blood and gore). Sarah loses friends and family members to these attacks. White soldiers attack and kill a small group of peaceful Indians (including women and children) out of vengeance. Two men attack teenage girls while they are bathing in a pond; one girl is raped; Sarah shoots and kills both men. Train robbers kill passengers on a train. Indians burn down a white homestead. A man attempts to rape Sarah while her little girl watches; he puts a knife to her breast and cuts her. He tries to drown her baby in the washtub. An insane woman smothers and kills her newborn baby; her grief-stricken husband kills her. Numerous other incidents of fatalities and gunfights; all are not graphically detailed. Sarah laments that she has seen more hard living and shot and killed more Indians (and attackers) in her young life than she would have ever imagined.
Sexual Content: Sarah falls asleep in Captain Elliot’s arms one evening in her covered wagon and fears she is a “ruined” and “wanton” woman. Sarah and Savannah discuss tepidly what happens in the marriage bed; Savannah tells her that the “marriage bed is undefiled”. Sarah’s first husband used to frequent a house of ill repute while they were married. Captain Elliot sees Sarah naked when he rescues her from being raped. He gently cleans the wound on her breast. Jack kisses Sarah in a way she’s never been kissed before, holding her tightly and making her go weak in the knees. Sarah confesses that she enjoys when Jack kisses her “in a most indecent way.” Some brief mention of Jack and Sarah’s wedding night. Jack recites sensual verses from the Song of Solomon to Sarah while she bathes. Sarah explains to her sister-in-law Savannah the primitive forms of birth control in the late 1800s (called a “Ladies’ Preventative”) and how not to get pregnant when you’re married.
Adult Themes: Some typical wild west scenarios of brawling, drinking, cigar smoking, train robberies, cattle stealing, etc. Children die of snake bites and scarlet fever, and women either die or are close to death during childbirth on more than one occasion. Sarah and Jack toast their wedding day with whiskey.
This is the diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, a real woman (the author’s own great-grandmother) who lived and homesteaded in the Arizona Territories of frontier times. Though somewhat fictionalized in its account of Sarah’s life, her story is compelling and vivid as she records the harsh life required of her in the wild, wild west. She begins recording her words at the tender age of 17; by the book’s end twenty years later, she has seen more than her fair share of Indian raids, gritty frontier life, and heartache and loss. By her 21st birthday, Sarah has recorded a loveless marriage to a childhood friend, the birth of her first child, the death of her first husband, and the establishment of a profitable cattle ranch. Then along comes Captain Jack Elliot, a tall, handsome and brave cavalry officer to romance Sarah and show her what it’s like to be truly loved. It’s this love story between Sarah and Jack which prevails and entrances throughout the rest of the novel. Through her diary entries, the reader witnesses Sarah’s transformation from young, rough, and uneducated (the initial grammar and writing is unpolished) to mature, tender, and articulate; an adored wife, a loving mother, a strong and courageous woman of purpose.
At times harrowing and heartbreaking, this is a beautifully written novel that is difficult to put down. Because it is written as a diary, it is like peering through a window into 1800s frontier Arizona, and the character of Sarah is so realistic and honest that by book’s end I felt I was saying goodbye to a cherished friend. The violence between white man and Indian is intense, and the rape scenes disturbing, for which I cannot recommend this to readers younger than upper high school age. But on every other account, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. And the love story between Jack and Sarah is as deliciously romantic as any I’ve read. So many wonderful quotations in this book, but here are two:
It seems there is always a road with bends and forks to choose, and taking one path means you can never take another one. There’s no starting over nor undoing the steps I’ve taken. . .
And one I can relate to completely: My life feels like a book left out on the porch, and the wind blows the pages faster and faster, turning always toward a new chapter faster than I can stop and read it.