Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Great Railroad race: The Diary of Libby West

The Great Railroad race: The Diary of Libby West

Kristiana Gregory
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic , 1999   ISBN: 978-0590109918

When Libby's father announces that he intends to travel with the builders of the transcontinental railroad and publish a newspaper about the great event, Libby's mother throws a fit. She has no intention of being left behind in Denver and a battle ensues. As so often happens, Libby?s forceful mother wins and soon Libby and her family are travelling to the Dakota Territory to meet up with the train.

Libby soon discovers that this adventure is going to be an uncomfortable one. Though her mother tries to create a home for her family wherever they are, the hotels and tents that they all live in are not all what Libby is used to. Libby is also lonely and is delighted when she makes a friend. Ellie Rowe and her mother are also at the mercy of the railroad, Mr. Rowe being one of the surveyors on the railroad. He is always at the railhead and his family have to follow him as best they can, just as Libby, her brother Joe and their mother are doing.

It isn't long before Libby discovers how dangerous this new world is. There are shootings in the new towns that spring up along the railroad and she and Ellie have a terrible fright when they go to one of these towns one night. It is not an experiment that they ever repeat. Instead they stay close to home, studying, helping with the chores, and watching the railroad inch its way across the country.

Libby is a wonderfully likeable and sympathetic character. As the days and weeks pass she learns a great deal about herself and about the world she is living in, coming to terms with the fact that she is growing up and understanding that life may not be as simple as it at first appears. The reader in turn is able to see what it was like to be a girl in the late 1800?s and how life in the western regions of the United States was harsh, often dangerous, and very unpredictable.