These Is My Words (Turner)

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901
Nancy E. Turner, 1998
HarperCollins
416 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061458033


Summary
A moving, exciting, and heartfelt American saga inspired by the author's own family memoirs, these words belong to Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier.

Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon—from child to determined young adult to loving mother—she shares the turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her, and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose.

Rich in authentic everyday details and alive with truly unforgettable characters, These Is My Words brilliantly brings a vanished world to breathtaking life again. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1959
Where—Dallas, Texas, USA
Reared—in Southern California and Arizona
Education—B.F. A., University of Arizona
Currently—lives in Tuscon, Arizona


Nancy E. Turner is the author of several works of fiction, including My Name is Resolute (2014), Star Garden (2006), Sarah's Quilt (2004), The Water and the Blood (2001), and These is My Words (1998). She has been a seam snipper in a clothing factory, a church piano player, a paleontologist's aide, and an executive secretary.

She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband and dog Snickers. She has two married children and three grandchildren. (From the publisher and author's website.)



Book Reviews
Based on the real-life exploits of the author's great-grandmother, this fictionalized diary vividly details one woman's struggles with life and love in frontier Arizona at the end of the last century. When she begins recording her life, Sarah Prine is an intelligent, headstrong 18-year-old capable of holding her own on her family's settlement near Tucson. Her skill with a rifle fends off a constant barrage of Indian attacks and outlaw assaults. It also attracts a handsome Army captain named Jack Elliot. By the time she's 21, Sarah has recorded her loveless marriage to a family friend, the establishment of a profitable ranch, the birth of her first childand the death of her husband. The love between Jack and Sarah, which dominates the rest of the tale, has begun to blossom. Fragmented and disjointed in its early chapters, with poor spelling and grammar, Sarah's journal gradually gains in clarity and eloquence as she matures. While this device may frustrate some readers at first, Taylor's deft progression produces the intended reward: she not only tells of her heroine's growth, but she shows it through Sarah's writing and insights. The result is a compelling portrait of an enduring love, the rough old West and a memorable pioneer.
Publishers Weekly


The first pages of Turner's work read like soap opera. Death by snakebite, Indian attacks, death in childbirth, rape, amputation without anesthetic are only some of the horrors of the first two chapters, in which action overwhelms character. Fortunately, these early entries of the diary of Sarah Agnes Prine are followed by others that introduce us to a remarkable woman and her family. The 30 years she chronicles begin in 1881, when she is 17 and en route from New Mexico Territory to Texas and back. Sarah's courage, resourcefulness, and skill with a rifle help her family survive after the death of her father and the loss of most of their property. However, the most lasting consequence of the ill-fated journey is her acquaintance with Captain Jack Elliott, commander of the troops assigned to protect the settlers from Texas to the Arizona Territory. Sarah resists her attraction to him, but after a brief, loveless marriage leaves her a widow with a child, she acknowledges her love. Their marriage is strong but unconventional, with her managing a growing ranch while he is away on extended military assignments. Readers come to admire Sarah, to share her many losses and rare triumphs. Turner based her novel on the life of her great grandmother. If even half these events are true, she was an amazing woman. For fans of historical fiction. —Kathy Piehl, Mankato State Univ., MN
Library Journal


This novel in diary format parallels the early history of the Arizona Territories as Sarah and her family travel from the New Mexico Territory and settle down to carve out a new life on a ranch near Tucson in the 1880s. Sarah's diary, based on the author's family memoirs, is a heartwarming and heartbreaking fictional account of a vibrant and gifted young woman. Sarah starts out as an illiterate, fiery 17 year old. Eventually, her writing becomes as smooth and polished as Sarah herself as she becomes a tenacious, literate, and loving wife and mother. A treasure trove of discovered books becomes the source of her self-education. Turner describes the trip in such detail that one has a sense of having traveled with Sarah, experiencing all of its heartache and sadness, its backbreaking exertion and struggles, its danger and adventure, its gentle and lighter moments. Life in the new country brings the constant fear of Indian raids and the threat and reality of floods, fire, and rattlesnakes; bandits; rough men, and pretentious women all have an effect on the protagonist but her strong marriage makes the effort worthwhile. Sarah centers her world around her home and family but maintains an independent spirit that keeps her whole and alive throughout her many trials and heartaches. This is a beautifully written book that quickly captures readers' attention and holds it tightly and emotionally until the end. —Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
School Library Journal


A convivial period tale of adventure, love, and marriage, featuring a spunky gun-toting heroine and the brave-hearted soldier she comes to love. "These is" the late-19th-century words of Sarah Prine (whose grammar will improve considerably by the close of the yarn) as she tells the story of her family's trek from their Oregon home to Arizona—a journey that takes a terrible toll, including the death of Papa from a wound in a Comanche attack, a brother's loss of a leg, and the killing of friends who are traveling in the same wagon train. There'll also come the death of a small brother from snakebite, Mama's temporary weakness of mind, and Sarah's own first killing when she rescues young friends from rape. Leading the trek is aloof and hateful Captain Jack Elliot of the Regular Army, with whom Sarah struck a bargain—trading surplus horses for books. Sarah then marries horseman Jimmy Reed and settles down outside Tucson to raise horses. Mama and more family are nearby for the birth of daughter April, but the marriage is not meant to be. Jimmy, actually a deceiver, is accidentally killed at about the time that Sarah rescues none other than Captain Jack himself from death. The courtship of Sarah by Jack is long and quirky, conducted in between Army assignments, but a marriage does ensue, and it's a supremely happy one: Sarah gives birth to three and weathers Jack's many departures for the Army. He's heroic but needy, and an adoring lover; Sarah's heroic not only in spirit but with weaponry. Eventually, she even gets an education. After all the familial triumphs and tragedies, Jack must leave for the last time—in a super weeper of a death scene. A lushly satisfying romance, period-authentic, with true-grit pioneering.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for These Is My Words:

1. Trace Sarah's evolution from a young, unschooled girl with rough, homespun grammar to a polished and literate writer. Where in her diary writings do you begin to notice the change?

2. Does Sarah's picture of the West challenge or confirm your ideas of life on the frontier? Think of the many losses, the hardships and how settlers surmounted them. Are we, in modern times, as tenacious and courageous as Sarah and her ilk?

3. Talk about Captain Jack's transformation—or is it Sarah's transformation? What ultimately brings to two together?4. Although Sarah's diary is fictional (there is no actual diary according to Turner), it is based on stories about the author's great-grandmother. Do you feel the story is realistic ... or highly romanticized? Is Sarah credible...do you find her story convincing?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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