- Virginia Johnson
In the 1860s, many people went west after the Civil War, looking for a fresh start and prosperity. Eleven-year-old Jane Deming really wants a new start, too. So, she is excited when a visionary—or is he a con man?—signs up her and her very young widowed stepmother to go on a voyage around South America to Seattle. There, young ladies and Civil War widows with families can marry the many bachelors who have gone on ahead, or in some other way contribute to the new city.
Beautiful, balmy Washington Territory, as described in Mr. Mercer’s “Reflections” pamphlet, is looking for people “with broad minds and sturdy constitutions,” and it sounds like paradise to Jane. A smart and determined girl, she had to give up her schooling to look after her baby brother Jer, while her widowed stepmother worked in a mill. A land full of possibilities sounded perfect to her.
Somehow, Jane (who has “Opinions,” though usually not much else) has managed to get hold of a pencil and paper where she writes her own reflections on her changing life as she experiences many adventures, both on ship and on the West Coast. Her sometimes overbearing stepmother, “Mrs. D.,” is sure she’ll be able to find a rich man to marry who will look after them, so they won’t have to worry about being so poor anymore. But Jane is hoping for something else—a school where she can finish her studies, keeping her promise to her late father.
In J. Anderson Coats’ The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, Jane and the other passengers on board the Continental have big dreams for their new lives. They will find that, although not all Mr. Mercer’s promises will ring true, they will be needing their broad minds and sturdy constitutions to make a go of it in a town that is just beginning.
For middle grade readers who enjoyed the Little House books, Jane’s story will be just the ticket. Jane experiences different things than Laura did on her prairie, but both are strong young women with “Opinions” and staunch hearts.