Nancy E. Turner's These is My Words is the captivating story of Sarah Agnes Prine, a young woman living in the Arizona Territories in the late 1800's. It is told as a diary that begins when 17-year-old Sarah moves with her family to Texas. Along the way they are attacked by Indians, their horses and livelihood are stolen, and they face other horrors -- including a brutal attack on Sarah's friends that only ends when young Sarah shoots and kills the two men (the first killings of many in her rough life on the frontier). Shortly after arriving at their destination, Sarah's father dies and they decide to return to the Arizona Territories. This time they travel with a large wagon company accompanied by soldiers and led by a Captain Jack Elliot (whom she is equally fascinated and repulsed by because of weird prejudices that don't make sense but you can only hope she'll get over them since he seems to be a pretty neat guy).
Sarah's mother sinks into a deep depression and can barely function, so Sarah assumes a role of leadership and control over her little surviving family. She is fiery and has a strong backbone, with a maturity and fearlessness beyond her years. But she is also full of insecurities with hopes and dreams just like any other young woman her age, and it is easy to love her and admire her and be swept up in her story. She longs to be educated but never had the opportunity beyond learning to barely read, so she reads whatever she can get her hands on and over time her spelling and grammar improve. (I've heard some readers complain that her spelling and grammar are a barrier in trying to get into the story, but I wouldn't know because I listened to the audio version. Which was fantastic, by the way: Valerie Leonard did a great job bringing the narrative to life.)
Once they arrive back in the territories, she helps her brother and his wife get settled near Tuscon and then marries a family friend who has started a large horse ranch nearby. Soon she finds that marriage isn't quite what she'd hoped it would be, but the untimely death of her husband spares her the years of misery that would otherwise have come. Not that she much likes her new role of young widow with a baby to protect and a large ranch to run by herself, and there are plenty of scary and stressful moments. But there are wonderful people who come into her life, including the kind and dashing Captain Elliot whose nobility and cleverness and kindness makes him an immediate favorite -- with the reader, that is. Sarah spurns his attentions, having been soured on men after her first husband turned out to be such a jerk. But eventually he breaks through her defenses and there are some very sweet and romantic moments as their love blossoms in spite of herself.
Eventually they marry and begin the kind of marriage and family life that she had always dreamed of. It is full of the hardship and sorrow that you would expect, but also many sweet and funny moments and through it all their deep and abiding love shines through and they have a happy life together. And over the years Sarah grows into a strong and refined woman; shaped through a life full of love, sorrow, heartache, and joy.
This was Turner's first novel, but I understand that she's written more about Sarah since, so I'm anxious to get a hold of them. It was pretty long, but full of action and detail that brought the world to life and made me long to see the Arizona Territories from 100 years ago. (And if you know how I feel about Arizona, that's saying something!) So while the diary style has never been my favorite, I never got bored, and in fact kept trying to find chores to do so I could keep listening. It was full of interesting characters that made me laugh and cry right along with them, and gave me a fresh appreciation for the strong women like Sarah who helped shape this country behind the scenes. Some of the material is definitely for a mature audience, so be forewarned that it's not exactly Little House on the Prairie. But if you are in the mood for a great story and fascinating characters, this one gets a hearty recommendation!