Book Review: These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

9780061458033These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories

by Nancy E. Turner
ISBN 9780061863554
HarperCollins, 2009

People in the Arizona Territories in the late 1800s lived on a knife edge between life and death. The snap of a rattler, a well-placed arrow, or an infection in a time before antibiotics could slice away the life of loved ones with breathless efficiency. That looming possibility of an untimely end to beloved characters is one of the reasons why These Is My Words is such a gripping story. Nancy Turner handles the life and death on which this novel turns deftly. She surprises us with the loss of characters when we least expect it. She pulls others away from certain death in the nick of time. The result is, with each turn of events, we must keep reading to see if the time has arrived for a character’s demise.

Turner unfolds the events of her novel through journal entries written by the main character, Sarah Agnes Prine. Prine is a fictional woman based on the author’s great-grandmother. It’s not surprising that many readers believe this to be non-fiction. The journal entries, for the most part, feel authentic, with only occasional stretches to a fictional feel to carry the story along. Sarah’s entries evolve over time as she gains more knowledge and education. After she finds a dictionary, she sprinkles her entries with new-found, savoury, big words.

In her travels around Texas and Arizona, Sarah encounters Comanches, Apaches, soldiers, and fellow travellers of varied ethnic origin. Turner sprinkles in people and events from history (Geronimo and Doc Holliday, for example) to show what life was like then in the area.

As a pioneer woman, Sarah Prine must handle all of this while navigating the line between femininity and survival. She balances pretty dresses and shotguns, breastfeeding and cattle wrangling, and baking and bartering. We can’t help but be charmed by this strong female character, taking on all comers.

Turner’s had to use straightforward, simple language to tell Sarah’s story, and it’s all the more powerful for it. Succinct phrases like, “. . . children mourn in little bits here and there like patchwork in their lives,” and, “. . . being forsaken is worse than being killed,” sum up Sarah’s moments perfectly.

All of the members of my book club really liked this book. We liked the characters, the pacing, the suspense, and the setting. And we particularly admired the perfect final line.


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on January 29, 2014, in Book Club, Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I bought, Fiction, HarperCollins, Historical Fiction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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