Jefferson J. Jackson is looking for strong men to bring out west on the Oregon Trail to cut logs, but that isn’t what he finds. Instead, he finds Maddy and Aiden–brother and sister, starving, alone, and near death. Jackson’s pity kicks in and he allows them both to join him, on one condition: Aiden must work for the logging company to pay both his and Maddy’s way. This doesn’t sound so terrible to either Maddy or Aiden, as both have run out of ways to survive, so they accept.
While on the wagon train, Maddy and Aiden learn more about life, love, loss, and loyalty. But first they just have to survive–after all, on the Oregon Trail, there is “a grave a mile”. And then Aiden must decide where his loyalties lie: with the Indians, who he has a chance to save, or with survival and his own life?
The Devil’s Paintbox is heartwrenching. Each and every character has a story, depth, and personality. McKernan winds in reality and vivid imagery to create a story in which readers can experience the truths of the Oregon Trail and life in 1865.
Most of all, I was deeply touched by Aiden. I can’t give too much away, but his fierce protectiveness of his sister, resistance to immorality, and the trouble wrought on his character made him into a real person I wanted to just hug and say “It’s all right.” And that is what makes a character, and a book, memorable.