Author: Andra Watkins
Genre: Paranormal Fiction
Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em.
I am absolutely in love with this book. It may have a strange, multi-genre concept, but it works in the most wonderful of ways. Meriwether Lewis, of the famed Lewis and Clark died along the Natchez Trace trail 1809 in a most mysterious way; with two bullet wounds that was ruled a suicide. This is a historic fact, but what Andra Watkins has done with this fact is an incredibly amazing story. Upon his death, Meriwether Lewis, or Merry as we get to know him, believes he is a failure. He did not get to publish is expedition journals and he failed to excel in the governmental position he was given, the governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, the position that James Wilkinson was kicked out of. Now, Merry is stuck in the Nowhere, a kind a purgatory where he must successfully complete a mission in the real world in order to move on. Merry has failed 12 missions, number 13 will be his last chance. Mission 13 concerns nine year old Emmaline Cagney in the year 1977. Emmaline has gone through a bitter custody battle where she saw her father ripped from her life by a rather odd Judge. Emmaline is forced to live by her mother's strict rules in a rather unusual setting where her mother wants her to serve tea to men with her dress unbuttoned. When the police and the Judge arrive to bust her mother's operation, Em's Aunt Bertie tells her to make a run for it and find her father in Nashville. Merry's quest is to take Emmaline from New Orleans to Nashville to reunite with her father, but he must outwit and outrun the strange Judge who want Emmaline for himself and face his own ghosts along the Natchez Trace.
First of all, Emmaline and Merry's characters and companionship are brilliant. Such a strange pair, but so well done. Andra Watkins writing takes you into the mindset and emotions of a nine year old girl and a thirty-five year old explorer so perfectly that it will break your heart. I had so many favorite quotes from this book to share;
"The door slammed, and it was like a clock stopped. Like I would never be older than that moment. Everything would always be 'Before Daddy' and 'After Daddy.' "
This is Em's defining moment, so perfectly wrapped up as a nine year old would see it. When Merry finds Em, his next assignment, she is desperately trying to outrun the Judge's men. He knows he must help her and gain her trust to complete his assignment. Merry has no idea what he is in for.
"I watched her face and cogitated the meaning behind her words. Imagined who-or what-her mother was, right before she told me. Not in so many words. A nine-year-old girl should never have to say her mother is a prostitute. But, she colored in the picture for me with broken crayons in damaged hues."
I loved the decision that the best way for Em and Merry to get to Nashville is to take the old Natchez Trace trail. Not only do we get to experience part of the trail, but Merry is forced, quite literally and figuratively to face old ghosts that he did not get to vanquish in his life. We also get to see a newly-painted portrait of just how great an explorer and outdoorsman Meriweather Lewis was, which brings him back to life in reader's eyes.
" The Trace was a tunnel through time. Sunlight cast shadows through the timber, and a squirrel scampered across the trail ahead of us. I breathed in the rich smell of earth and rotting leaves and tried to remember what it felt like to lead. To be fearless, decisive. To guide another person through the unknown."
The Judge's character, a villain for both Merry and Emmaline was a great addition. His use of the Nowhere and his quest to seek Emmaline is such a juxtaposition to Merry, that he is the perfect antagonist. Also, Emmaline's descriptions of him are so spot-on, that when I looked up the real James Wilkinson, he was just as I had pictured. Em and Merry's journey is is insightful, adventurous, dangerous, hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time. I would think anyone who enjoys historical fiction, coming-of-age, paranormal or just plain, old good writing would enjoy this story.
Andra Watkins is the first living person to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. 15 miles a day. 34 days. Alone. Her historic walk launched her debut novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, a mishmash of historical fiction, paranormal fiction and suspense that follows Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) after his mysterious death on the Natchez Trace in 1809.
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You can email the author at readme(at)andrawatkins(dot)com. You can also follow her on Google+,Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads.
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Reading To Live Forever really made me want to discover more about Meriwether Lewis, his strange death and his rival James Wilkinson. So, I decided to do a bunch of research and share it with you here. Lewis and Clark are well enough known for their Corps of Discovery Expedition that crossed the US from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast. That's over 6000 miles of country that they walked! Lewis hunted and scouted along the way. leading the group of young men (at the average age of 29). While doing this, he took meticulous notes of the landscape, plants and animals throughout his 13 journals and maps. Their journey lasted 848 days.
After returning from their journey, Lewis was appointed Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory. He replaced General James Wilkinson, who had been implicated in a plot to establish a separate nation in the Louisiana Territory along with Vice President Aaron Burr.
To this day, Meriwether Lewis' death along the Natchez Trace on October 10, 1809 remains a mystery. Lewis stopped at Grinder's Stand, a lodging cabin that night. There are separate accounts that said he arrived alone or that he arrived with servants. Mrs. Grinder was interviewed and said that she heard several shots and found Lewis crawling around asking for help. Lewis had several different pistols with him. They might have taken a lot of work to re-load. His death was ruled a suicide and believed by Thomas Jefferson and William Clark, even with all the flimsy evidence. Some believe that Meriwether was on his way to expose James Wilkinson's plot.
Today there is some push from Meriwether's descendants to exhume his body and try to find some truth behind his death, or at least figure out how tall he was and what color hair he had.
What do you think, death or suicide?
Thank you to these sites:
Smithsonian.com Symonsez.wordpress Mikewaltteacher.com