This Vast Land: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
This Vast Land: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Book Poster Image
Fascinating historical fiction with graphic sex, violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is historical fiction written by a renowned historian. Will give readers a sense of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For high school students learning about this amazing journey, this book may be the best place to start.

Positive Messages

Coming-of-age themes as the young protagonist becomes an important member of the expedition.

Positive Role Models & Representations

George, a well-educated city boy, knows nothing of the wilderness, hunting, or soldiering, but he is a quick study, and his enthusiasm and loyalty prove to be even greater qualities. He becomes a valuable asset to the Expedition.

Violence

Killing of animals and humans, scalping, battles between Indians and whites. Some of the confrontations with the Indians are very tense.

Sex

Mention of menses, whores, sleeping together, and one extremely graphic sexual encounter between young George and an Indian woman, which results in her pregnancy.

Language

A variety of swearing typical of men in these circumstances.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking, drinking, drunkenness. George participates in, and learns to like, all three.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a fictionalized journal of the Lewis and Clark expedition's youngest member, written by the late Stephen Ambrose, a world-renowned historian. Despite accessible language, one extremely graphic sex scene makes this book a better choice for high school students. There is also some other pretty mature material, including battles and scalpings. But mature readers will find a very relatable protagonist to teach them about an amazing piece of American history: George, a well-educated city boy, knows nothing of the wilderness, hunting, or soldiering, but he is a quick study, and his enthusiasm and loyalty prove to be even greater qualities. 

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Teen, 17 years old Written byThe Real Gordon... April 9, 2008

I loved this book, but it had extremely offensive content.

"This Vast Land" by Stephen Ambrose was an extremely well written book. It was written as a first-person account by George Shannon, it covers his jour... Continue reading

What's the story?

George is only 17 when he introduces himself to Captain Merriweather Lewis and asks to join his expedition. At first Lewis brushes him off, but George is persistent. When Lewis reluctantly takes him on, he gives George a blank journal book and orders him to fill it out every day. George keeps it faithfully, though of course not every day, for the three years of the Expedition, and sporadically for the next 30 years of his life. George, a well-educated city boy, knows nothing of the wilderness, hunting, or soldiering, but he is a quick study, and his enthusiasm and loyalty prove to be even greater qualities. He becomes a valuable asset to the Expedition on their arduous journey. The team encounters bear and Indian attacks, experiences severe privations and illness, crosses the Rockies on foot, canoes through rapids and the waves of the Pacific, and traverses across forbidding and almost inaccessible lands as they travel all the way across the continent and back again. Along the way George learns the skills of a hunter, soldier, and mountain man, falls in love with an Indian woman, and comes to love the wilderness so much that he plans to return there to live with his wife and child after the Expedition is over.

 

he Corps' hunter, Drewyer, takes George under his wing, and soon he is \ learning to hunt better than most of the men who were born to it.There \ doesn't seem to be a word adequate to the task of describing what \ George and the rest of the Corps of Discovery go through -- arduous, \ dangerous, they don't even come close.

Is it any good?

Teens will find this fascinating and gripping. The late Stephen Ambrose, world-renowned historian, completed this fictionalized journal of the Lewis and Clark expedition's youngest member, George Shannon, just before his death. This book -- his only work of fiction -- is pure adventure, unvarnished with the tricks of the fiction-writer's craft. This is no character study; the personality and experiences of George Shannon are completely invented, and he is used primarily as a lens to show the experience from a young person's point of view.

The sometimes salty and deliberately fractured language is accessible to younger readers, but an extremely graphic sex scene in the middle of the book will make adults hesitate to give it to elementary or middle school students. Nevertheless, for high school students learning about this amazing journey, this book may be the best place to start.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about historical fiction. Could you separate fact from fiction here? What do you think about learning history this way? Is it effective?

  • This book is educational -- but also features some mature content, including sexual material and violence. Were these details necessary to tell George's story?

Book details

For kids who love history and historical fiction

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