Reviews of Broken Trail

Canadian Children's Booknews
July 10, 2011

Broken Trail, a 13-year-old Oneida boy at the time of the American Revolution, has undertaken a vision quest to find his oki, his spirit protector. He wants nothing more than to become a warrior like his uncle, Carries a Quiver. He wants to forget that before he was Broken Trail, adopted son of an Oneida couple, he was Moses Cobman.

A British soldier interrupts Broken Trail’s vision quest, accidentally shooting him in the leg. At the British camp, after his wound is dressed, the general asks him to take a message to the British commander at Kings Mountain, far to the south, in exchange for a rifle.

At Kings Mountain, Broken Trail comes face-to-face with his past and with the knowledge that it may not be so easy to forget who he once was. Perhaps, in fact, it will be important to the future of the Oneida that he remember.

Author Jean Rae Baxter has written an engaging, absorbing story—well-plotted, full of detail and full of sympathy and understanding of human nature. Broken Trail’s quest for his true identity is one every adolescent can identify with.

This novel is the second in the Loyalist trilogy that began with The Way Lies North. Baxter is working on a third novel with the same characters.
Reviewer: Elizabeth Creith

Resource Links, Vol. 16.5

Broken Trail is the story of a boy by the same name. As [sic] 13-year-old white boy captured and adopted by the Oneida, his route to manhood in the midst of the American rebellion is filled with adventure and personal struggle as his childhood past confronts his new loyalties. J. R. Baxter is an educator and experienced writer. Her careful research and lyrical narrative style bring to life a momentous time in North American history.

Although this is a sequel to The Way Lies North, enough information is provided to make the story quite accessible. In fact, I want to read the first one now! This book would appeal to young readers of both genders and be an excellent resource for social studies curriculum.
Reviewer: Christy den Hoan-Veltman

Voya Magazine

At the age of ten, Moses Cobham was carried off by Oneida Indians in the Mohawk Valley of present-day New York State. Now thirteen, Moses has been assimilated into the tribe, received the name Broken Trail, and set off alone to complete the ritual vision quest that will initiate his passage to adult warrior status. After being injured in an accident, he is taken up by British soldiers who recognize the boy’s value as a bilingual scout and promise him a rifle if he will deliver a message to Loyalist militia far to the south. Broken Trail barely survives the Battle of Kings Mountain, North Carolina (a historical turning point in the American War of Independence), and manages to complete his original quest in a most unexpected way.

This historical novel is a loose sequel to Baxter’s The Way Lies North (Ronsdale, 2007), which was well received in Canada. A third novel is planned, completing a trilogy concerning families along the Canadian border torn between white and aboriginal cultures, and between Loyalist and American sides of the Revolutionary War. This well-written coming-of-age tale is highly recommended for American students interested in alternative (Canadian, Loyalist, and Indian) views of a historical period that Americans tend to see only in triumphant, patriotic terms. Broken Trail is an appealing hero who comes through a major battle, several violent skirmishes, and other tests of character—not to mention his original vision quest—with cool-headed courage and resourcefulness, never firing a shot in anger.
Reviewer: Walter Hogan

CM Magazine
March 11, 2011

Broken Trail, set in 1780, is a coming-of-age novel about a 13-year-old boy from New York, one of the Thirteen Colonies at war with Britain. Moses Cobham was kidnapped at age nine by Oneida people when his family was camped at Oneida Lake on their way to Upper Canada. Anti-royalist neighbours torched their home while Moses's father and elder brother, Elijah, were away, serving the king with Butler's Rangers.
The novel begins with the renamed Moses, now "Broken Trail," learning the initiation skills required to become a warrior in the culture which adopted him. He is happy as an Oneida. In the longhouse at night, he has seen his mother "looking at him with a look of love" that made him "close his eyes to shut it out, knowing himself unworthy of such devotion."

While in the forest on a vision quest, Broken Trail is shot in the leg by two Redcoat soldiers. At camp, the captain decides that this "white Indian" would make the ideal courier to travel some 500 miles in 12 days to warn the British officer, Major Patrick Ferguson, [a real person] in North Carolina that an attack against him is looming.

Broken Trail's journey, both geographic and personal, makes for a fast-paced interesting novel structured according to the Hero's Journey pattern. Baxter's narration, with cliffhangers at the end of chapters, will appeal to young people reading to see what happens next. Yet the plot device that leads to Broken Trail's journey seems contrived. In 1780, would a British army captain stationed in the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River area of Upper Canada be likely to receive intelligence about movements against British forces deep in North Carolina? More likely, this information would have been relayed to Lord Cornwallis, Major Ferguson's superior officer, who was in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in a position to help Ferguson.

Historical novels should entertain, and Baxter excels in keeping her central character moving through the woodlands from one challenge to another. An added function of an historical novel is to inform. The author must balance the need to create a fast-paced, interesting story with the need for accuracy and atmosphere.

A preface explaining the politics of the time would be useful to young readers who may have encountered the word "rebel" in an American Civil War context. "Loyalist" and "rebel," as used in Broken Trail, could have been defined. Indeed, those who were "rebels" to their enemies were "Patriots" among their friends. The terms "Yankee" and "Whig" were in common parlance, also, before "American" came into common usage.
In North Carolina, Broken Trail meets a Cherokee who has been fighting white settlers and who says that the English are friends of his nation. In a preface, Baxter could have noted the British Proclamation of 1763 forbidding white settlers from the Thirteen Colonies to cross the crest of the Appalachian Mountains to settle in the "Indian territory" beyond. Settlers from the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee wanted people of European origin to be able to spread across the continent. The "Overlanders" who fought against Major Ferguson were settlers who had already crossed the mountains.

King's Mountain is a rocky, forested hill in the upper Piedmont near the border between the Carolinas. There, local "Patriot" militias, along with "Overlanders," took by surprise the Loyalist militias and soldiers under Major Ferguson. Ferguson's defeat caused British commander Lord Cornwallis to cancel his plans to invade North Carolina. The Battle of King's Mountain is an historic site because the battle was a turning point toward American victory.

The battle part of Baxter's story is particularly compelling, as is Broken Trail's rescue of his brother. Soon Broken Trail is on the homeward journey where more challenges and a final test await him.

Broken Trail is the second novel in Baxter's Loyalist trilogy. The first, This Way Lies North, was published in 2007. Will Broken Trail appear in Number Three? We must wait and see.
Reviewer: Ruth Latta

Dr. Andrea Deakin’s News and Reviews of Children’s Literature
March 2011

It is 1780. Broken Trail, who was once Moses Cobman, has forced himself to forget his past life. He avoids speaking English, adopted by the Oneida as a child, he thinks of himself as one of them. Now the time has come for him to fast in the wilderness and pray to see his totem animal, his oki, the creature that will guide him throughout life; but a rifle cracks, Broken Trail feels a sharp pain in his thigh, just at the very moment he also sees a wolverine making its way towards him. Rescued by the redcoats, who have shot him by accident, he is taken to their camp, treated, and given an important message, the warning of a coming attack, to be taken to a Major Ferguson in charge of a troop of men at King's Mountain.

With the help of a young Cherokee he meets on the way, Broken Trail sets off to give his warning, but it is ignored, and the two lads hide to avoid the almost immediate slaughter of the Battle of Kings Mountain. Amongst the few survivors Broken Trail finds his long-lost brother, severely wounded, and has to make a choice between his old world and his new.

Broken Trail is a gripping tale whose believable hero is genuinely torn between the Oneida people who have become his loved family and his earlier life before he was captured. His confusion and emotional stress, as he lies between care and duty to his injured brother, and his devotion to his new family and the need to prove himself to them, is thoroughly convincing. A tumultuous period in North American history becomes more real for young people through the adventures and loyalties of Broken Trail, his brother Elijah, and his companion in adventurer, Red Sun Rising.

Broken Trail follows on in time from Jean Rae Baxter's The Way Lies North (reviewed October 2007).
Reviewer: Dr. Andrea Deakin