Francine Rivers definitely got it right with her endorsement that's printed on the front of this book: "Prepare to burn the midnight oil." Just so you know....she was not kidding. I was awake past midnight the past 2 nights reading this fabulous book. :o) Even though I am a Christian, I am intrigued by the Mormon culture, and occasionally like to read something that gives me a better understanding of their history and lifestyle, and why they believe what they do.
While reading this book, I thought about what life must have been like back then. The events in the book take place just shortly before the Civil War, and it's just heartbreaking to think of how much killing took place back then. I don't understand how a society (the Mormons) could believe in blood atonement--a person giving up their own life to atone for their own personal sins to achieve a higher level of godhood when they make it to their own planet. There are some serious brainwashing issues there.
Of course, I don't even have to mention the obvious issues with some of the things that are the central basis of Mormon belief, although the multiple wives issue is no longer a part of the Mormon theology, just the FLDS (Fundementalist Church of Latter-Day Saints). There is one scene in the book where a wedding takes place, and the bride is given a new name just before the ceremony. When her groom leans to ask her new name, she gives it to him, and he explains to her that this new name will be hers after death when they get to their planet. She'll only be welcomed there once her groom calls her by her new name, not her old. The problem with this is the groom is the one who can get her into heaven (along with all his other wives), not God. More brainwashing issues....
The emotions in this book are all over the place, and I mean that in a good way. There were times when I was happy, sad, shocked, and in tears. I also loved that the story was told from both sides--the Mormons on one side, the people from the wagon train on the other--and even though I knew how things would play out, it helped to see everything from both sides. I couldn't help but grieve for both Ellie (from the wagon train) and Hannah (from the Mormon community)--Ellie because of the pregnancy that she had to live through while driving a rig across the country, and Hannah because of what she's forced into once she's an adult.
No doubt about it, this book will definitely be a keeper for me and loaned out many times, I'm sure! This is a 5-star book, hands down!