Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

My Name Is America: The Journal Of Sean Sullivan, A Transcontinental Railroad Wo

My Name Is America: The Journal Of Sean Sullivan, A Transcontinental Railroad Wo

William Durbin
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic , 1999   ISBN: 978-0439049948

When Sean goes to join his father in Nebraska to work on the Union Pacific railroad line he has all sorts of ideas of what it is going to be like. The reality is quite different. For one thing the living conditions are primitive. Sean, his father and a friend share a tent whenever possible for the sleeping carriages that are provided for the workers on the railroad are dark, noisy and foul smelling. The food is also pretty bad and the way in which food is served is even worse. Then there is the violence that can break out at any time in the towns that spring up along the path of the new railway. These “hell-on-wheels” towns are short-lived and Sean knows better than to venture into them. He may end up getting shot, the fate of so many of the railroad workers.

Sean begins by being a water boy which is a big come down for him but his father insists that Sean needs to work his way up through the ranks. So Sean hauls water, he helps to cut up the meat for the meals, he swabs off the dining tables (and the plates that are nailed to the table tops), he shoots snakes on the line, and finally he helps put down track.

This fascinating book not only tells us Sean’s story but it also touches on many issues that were very important in the late 1800’s. Sean writes about the way in which the “Indians” and Chinese workers are treated, and how men who were once enemies in the Civil War are now working side by side. He shows us how important this railway was and how its completion was cause for great celebration all over the country. He also shows us how corrupt the business side of the railroad building project was with the bosses making huge sums of money and the railroad itself being laid way too fast to be safe. By incorporating these details into Sean’s narrative the author gives us a colourful and lively picture of what American life was like at that time.