WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Wipple by Kathryn Lasky
Type: Children’s, Diary, Historical Fiction
Basic Plot: Remember Patience Whipple travels to Plymouth to start a colony in the New World.
Plot: 3/5 Average: The diary is a typical story of growing up aimed at a young audience. It deals with change and death, usually literal, which are two topics that are not uncommon in children’s historical fiction. While the time and events may be interesting, the actual story itself was nothing extraordinary. It would probably be of most interest to someone who knows little to nothing about the time period of the Pilgrims or who is just getting into historical fiction diaries.
Writing Style and Setup: 3/5 Average: The style was a good, plain style for children’s books. It is easy to read, though complex enough for preteens. The pace was a bit choppy, but not too fast or slow. Occasionally, the author had Mem take breaks from writing, no doubt to move time along.
Moral: 2/5 No Clear Moral: Though the protagonist does mature over time from her sober surroundings, there seems to be no main moral. Positive and negative elements are shown. Mem and a majority of the characters have a faith in God that has little to no tainted shadowing, unlike most books dealing with religious protagonist. Mem has a simple faith and pure love for God. On a negative side, there are a few hints of the “we are all the same” theory, as Mem likes to think about how they are all Pilgrims rather than that she and her friend are separated by religious terms. This is brief and light compared to some other children’s literature, but it is there. Another potential problem is that in the beginning, Mem tends to do what is wrong for what she believes is right. She plans to steal medicine to help a dying boy (though she doesn’t) and insults a rude girl. This behavior is never punished or rewarded, though by the end of the book, this behavior is practically nonexistent.
Overall: 3/5 Average: This book is a good first read for historical fiction or diary books, but is on its own not an outstanding book. It is not a book that I would go out of my way to recommend to very many people, but I am sure there are some that would enjoy it.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 1/5 Brief Mention and Some Immodesty: A girl mentions that a Native American man was “mostly naked” except for some cloth around his loins. A girl mentions that she would “not go naked,” and lists the clothes she would swim in. A girl mentions that a little boy tried to look up her skirt. It is mentioned that everyone sees the backs and stomachs of men on the ship, and a girl writes that she thinks it is weird that they have hair. A girl exaggerates that she cannot change her petticoat modestly unless she were in a barrel.
The only potty humor is that a girl and her friend make a list of all the words they know for the act of throwing up.
Violence: Some children push a girl into low water. A man hits a boy for trying to look up girl’s skirts. Boys are mentioned to be “thrashed” or are threatened with it numerous times for misbehavior.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: ½/5 Light Misuse: Characters are mentioned to be called “puke-stockings” for being sea sick. It is mentioned several times that characters curse or are profane and foul-mouthed, but what they said is never directly said. Once a woman covers her daughters ears to prevent her from hearing a couple curse at each other.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 3/5 Frequent Mention: Death is frequent, especially from disease. This cause the main character to notice what people do when they die, i. e. “gripping the sheets” and “slag of the mouth.” These deaths are caused by disease and drowning, and their bodies are sometimes thrown overboard afterwards. A woman pretends to talk to her son, who is in another country, and eventually drowns after falling overboard from a mixture of delirium and depression. Another woman’s family is taken when she is unconscious from fear that she will not let them go, and after her husband died she held him. A man is depressed about his wife’s death, and asks several dying people to talk to his wife for him, causing disturbances to children and adults, sometimes resulting in tears. A man once worries that this man will “hurt himself” on accident because he is so delirious. A girl nearly dies, and it is mentioned that her “eyes rolled back in [her] head.” All of this death causes the protagonist to become so depressed that she has a sad attitude in writing and eventually stops writing altogether for several months.
A man mentions that men who disobeyed the king religiously had their “half-starved” bowels cut out and replaced with burning coals as they were being hanged. A woman rebukes him for going into what she considers graphic detail. It is also mentioned earlier that they were “cut… into pieces.” The main girl angrily writes that she wishes a mean girl would almost die and be crippled for life. Characters fall overboard, once causing a woman to give birth prematurely. Some boys try to drown a cat. A girl is afraid of sharks and drowning, and wonders if the men will throw the Puritans overboard for their stuff. A woman’s bed catches on fire while she is in it, though she is saved. Many babies are mentioned to be still born. Characters throw up from seasickness, and they get scurvy and scours, which is diarrhea. It is mentioned that a plague killed all the Indians that used to live where the Pilgrims do. It is mentioned that men are in danger of death from working on the ship. Characters are mentioned to have been purposely bled, as at the time it is believed to be a genuine practice. A girl thinks a dog will bite some boys for being messed with. Characters cough and throw up blood (or just in general) and bleed, as well as have thrashing, fevers and delirium. Bile is mentioned once. It is mentioned once that a boy does not like blood, though he helps a doctor with “cutting and bleeding.” A girl gets a sore shoulder and once bumps her head, causing a bump. A girl angrily wishes that the “sun… would roll its… eye into the skull… like a dead man’s do.” “Enough to make your ears bleed” is used for descriptive purposes. A doctor uses the phrases “burns a hole in his brain” to describe what a fever could do to a certain boy. It mentions that people cried over their families leaving for America; a girl “would… rather die” than leave her family. It is jokingly mentioned that the characters will be “disappointed if [the Indians] do not attack” as they are preparing for it. Characters also cry over the deaths of numerous characters. Some men get lost and are thought dead, but are not. Armed guards, forming a militia, and muskets are mentioned, as well as the firing of muskets into the distance. It is mentioned that a man has been on the “battlefield and seen his comrades slew in most brutal ways.” Some men shoot at the Indians, though none are hit and later everybody becomes friends. A girl hopes that no Indians are killed before she sees them. Some children chase other children with sticks, but are punished for it. It is mentioned that some children nearly blow up a boat on accident, and a girl jokes that she and her friend will not do that. It is mentioned that a plant heals stiff joints and stomachaches. It is mentioned that some men find an Indian graveyard.
Religious Issues: ½/5 Brief Mention: A girl says that she and the people in her religion are “not the Pope’s people.” They are a group called “Saints of the Holy Disciple.” These are the Puritans, though the book does not call them this. A girl says her mother probably worried that her daughter would “grow up… giving birth to little bishops” the leaders of a religion of those in Holland. A girl describes her and her father working as “like beings possessed.” Some characters put an herb in a lady’s coffin, with the belief that it keeps nightmares away.
Magic: ½/5 Brief Mention: It is mentioned once that rumors were going around that a woman was committing “sorceries” such as “fortune telling.” There is no magic in the book.
Others: Beer, liquor, and whiskey are all mentioned, sometimes that characters do or want to drink it. Once it is mentioned that beer was used in cooking. It is mentioned that the Mayflower once carried wine. It mentions once that a man “check[s]… beer barrels” on the Mayflower. Characters are mentioned to “jig” to drums and the Native Americans are mentioned once to perform a “deer dance.”
Overall: 2½/5 Almost Child Appropriate: While fairly clean, the book does deal with heavy content for some children, such as death as disease. I would recommend the book morally, for its dark emotional content, for children twelve and older.