To Stay Alive

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Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7811-1
304 pages
Ages 10 and up

The journey West by wagon train promises to be long and arduous for nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves and her parents and eight siblings. But she is hopeful about their new life in California, and the possibility of freedom from family demands that she aches for.

But when winter comes early to the Sierra Nevada, the Graves family, traveling alongside the Donner and Reed families, experiences one of the most harrowing, tragic, and storied journeys in American history.

Amid the pain of loss and the constant threats of freezing temperatures and meager supplies, Mary Ann learns what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and, above all, to persevere. To Stay Alive is a moving narrative told from the viewpoint of one of the survivors of the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846.


  • A Junior Library Guild selection
  • 2017 CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People selection
  • ALA Notable Books for Children, 2017, Older Readers
  • 2016 Cybils finalist, Poetry

“A nuanced and haunting portrayal of the indomitable human spirit.”
—Horn Book, starred review

“The gravity of the cannibalism, now synonymous with the Donner Party, is treated deftly, conveying Mary Ann’s visceral reactions without becoming steeped in grisly detail. As loss compounds loss, brevity and repetition…intensify key moments in a harrowing, exhausting trek.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“With her refreshingly varied form and ever-earnest tone, Brown weaves a compelling story of suffering, sacrifice, and survival.”
— Booklist

“Across four seasons, Brown uses words and form effectively to evoke the hopeful idealism, love, joy, and life-or-death terror they feel along the way…A solid introduction to a somber episode in American history.”

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