Reviews for Nelly in the Wilderness
Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 April 2002
Gr. 5-8. Their ma said troubles come in threes, so 12-year-old Nelly and her brother, Cornelius, should have been forewarned. When their father disappears after Ma dies, Nelly believes him dead. So when he returns with a new wife, Margery, Nelly is hurt, resentful, and certain Margery is the third trouble. Margery seems wildly unsuited for the Indiana frontier of 1821. She has fancy clothes and outlandish notions that challenge the family's strongly held beliefs, and she can't perform the simplest housekeeping chores. Margery continues to try to befriend Nelly, but it's not until Margery is deathly ill that Nelly recognizes the woman's strength and kindness and finds the will to stand up to her prideful, narrow-minded father. In a fast-paced story sure to catch readers who like historical fiction, Cullen creates a capable, headstrong heroine as she delivers a surprising amount of information about life on the early American frontier. ((Reviewed April 1, 2002)) Copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2002 Fall
Nelly's story, set in 1821 Indiana, is an evocation of frontier life and also a study of a girl's maturation against fearful odds. Nelly is twelve when her mother dies and her distraught father disappears, leaving her and her older brother to fend for themselves. When their father returns, he's accompanied by a young bride, whom both children immediately hate. The conclusion, despite tragic overtones, is hopeful. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #4
Deeper than the standard pioneer novel, Nelly's story is not only an evocation of frontier life but also a study of an adolescent girl's maturation against fearful odds-ignorance, lack of adult guidance, and her own emotions. Nelly is only twelve when her beloved mother dies and her distraught father disappears, leaving her and her fourteen-year-old brother to fend for themselves. Eventually their father returns, accompanied by a young bride, Margery, citified, educated, curled and groomed. Both children immediately hate her. Over the next year, they ignore her or treat her with disrespect despite her best efforts to befriend them and cope with the harsh realities of her new life. Her notions of the wilderness are romantic ones, formed from books rather than experience-still another barrier to her acceptance by her stepchildren. As time goes by, the reader senses that Nelly is grudgingly absorbing some of Margery's attitudes to other human beings, to nature, and to life. When Margery dies in childbirth, Nelly realizes what she has lost and at last sees her father as a weak man unable to face reality. The conclusion, despite tragic overtones, is hopeful, leaving one to believe that the feisty, indomitable Nelly might indeed find a better life. Set in 1821 Indiana, the story confronts the difficulties of wilderness life with a forthright presentation and a believable mother-daughter conflict as the plot catalyst. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2001 December #2
In a story that spans the four seasons of 1821, 12-year-old Nelly and her older brother, Cornelius, see their family devastated by the death of their mother, turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of their young and bookish stepmother, and enlivened by visits from a most peculiar John Chapman, a neighbor fond of planting apple trees. Set on the Indiana frontier, this has all the elements of a Little House wannabe. Here, though, Pa is gruff and non-communicative, disappearing for months and returning only with his pretty new wife Margery. Said wife brings a trunk full of books but can't cook the simplest foods. Pa and Cornelius spend a good deal of their time hunting and even bring home a catamount baby that Nelly adopts. Pa has killed the mother for her skin and warns Nelly that the adorable creature will grow up to kill. Nelly pays him no mind, to her eventual regret. She even cooks up a rather absurd romance between John Chapman and her stepmother. Needless to say, Nelly grows to appreciate her stepmother's good points, especially her storytelling and her books. When her baby arrives, it is Nelly who is present and Nelly who promises the dying Margery that she will love and cherish the infant. Cullen works hard to make Nelly an appealing heroine and develops the conflict in Nelly between love for her dead mother and growing respect for the stepmother. There's also a storyline for brother Cornelius who goes to a nearby abandoned fort ostensibly for schooling but really because of a girl. The father remains a stock, underdeveloped character, and while the hardships and loneliness of frontier life are developed in the story, references to relations with Indians appear thrown in merely for good measure. Pleasant but unsubstantial fare. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 February #4
Set in 1821 Indiana, Cullen's (The Mightiest Heart) well-worn tale of a pioneer girl's hardships begins on a grim note and becomes increasingly dismal as characters wallow in their separate woes. Nelly, along with her older brother, is still grieving for their dead mother when their long-absent father, a trapper, returns home with a city bride named Margery. Appalled by her delicate manners and young age, the children make their stepmother's life miserable. The heavy aura of discontent overshadows potentially tender moments. When Pa comes in one day bearing gifts, a catamount pelt for his wife and a catamount kitten for his daughter, more trouble brews. Margery will not accept the fur ("How could I ever find happiness in something that deprived a creature of its life?" she says primly but illogically, considering her husband's work). Nelly, in turn, continues to give Margery the cold shoulder even when she helps save the kitten's life. Characters never do manage to connect with one another. It takes a tragedy to make Nelly realize her stepmother's virtues, and by then, it is too late for her to beg forgiveness. Readers may have trouble feeling compassion for any of the players in this colorless melodrama; while the author succeeds in expressing frontier stoicism and describing settlers' exploitation of animals, her writing here lacks subtlety and depth. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2002 February
Gr 4-6-After her mother's death, Nelly's father takes off and her only companion in the wilderness of the Indiana frontier is her brother, Cornelius. Forced to fend for themselves, the two gradually manage to get by, only to have Pa return with a new wife in tow. Margery is pretty, a citified person, and incapable of doing most of the daily chores. When John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) comes to call, Nelly begins to hope that he and her stepmother will take a shine to one another and take off together. Determined not to talk to the woman, Nelly gradually relents under Margery's gentle kindness and determination to make things work. The cover art tantalizes readers into thinking that the plot's focus will be the baby wildcat that Nelly clutches, but this is only one of many threads that float around Margery and Nelly's relationship. A rattlesnake bite and a measles outbreak in a nearby Indian camp add a sense of danger but the sense of time and place are not as vividly drawn as in some other frontier tales. When tragedy strikes at the end, readers are not prepared and there is no sense that Nelly and her family fully feel the effects. Far less realistic than Mary Jane Auch's "Journey to Nowhere" trilogy (Holt), this story has little to recommend to readers except a feisty heroine.-Carol A. Edwards, Sonoma County Library, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.