by Lance Elliot Osborne
Set in the early nineteenth century, Bold Crossings unfurls the stories of two thirteen-year-olds from very different worlds but who are more similar than they realize, especially when those worlds collide.
Malcolm (“Mal”) Hornsby leaves Mississippi to travel with his family hundreds of miles to the harsh, unknown of the Texas plains and Wukubuu, a girl from the Penatuka band of the Native American Comanche tribe, and for whom the unforgiving Texas landscape is home. Neither Mal nor Wukubuu are keen to follow their respective families’ direction for them, but do they have any real option?...
Bold Crossings opens with a contemporary prologue, it’s brief but effective. The prose is precise, purposeful, and provides an intriguing, thought-provoking opener. This curiosity is consolidated as Osborne transports the reader back to Christmas 1829 and teenager Mal Hornsby, who is reluctantly departing Mississippi for Texas.
Mal immediately steps off the page, his wonderfully rustic and expressive voice distinct without being forced. Consequently, his journal entries are absorbing in their candor and authenticity. He is an immensely likable young man, with a strong seam of integrity and an inherent decency.
Mal’s counterpart, Wukubuu, is equally as individual and compelling. Osborne discloses her story slightly differently from Mal’s but in parallel. Her spirited, questioning yet mournful voice resonates with Penatukan culture and her perceived role within their traditions.
Both main protagonists are, in many ways, experienced beyond their years but emotionally vulnerable within their family units. Although Wukubuu and Mal’s voices are clearly defined, there is a related cohesive fluidity and rhythm to their language which is gently complementary.
Further, as their narratives draw closer together, Osborne knits subtle threads of similarity from thought processes to community events through the teenagers’ stories and weaves delicately recurring motifs and symbolism between the two.
Although Mal and Wukubuu drive the novel, the characters and events that surround them are just as accurate, convincing, and engaging. The degenerate stink of slave trader, Jacques Boucher emanates from the page and I suspect his surname was no coincidence.
Wukubuu’s brother, Wowoki is full of fire and her aunt, Muutsi, is a tough, brooding woman who suffered her own share of heartbreak. Areas of the novel are harrowing in their brutality and hardship. The benefit of reader hindsight imbues the plot with a touch of foreknowledge, and, subsequently the bitter taste of known futility.
An integral element of Bold Crossings is the climate and geography of Texas which Osborne brings alive to a sensory degree. It serves as both enemy and friend to the teenagers and their tribes. Indeed, the research and wealth of knowledge Osborne has brought to bear on Bold Crossings is astonishing. Not only is the novel an extraordinarily immersive read, but it’s also immensely interesting from an educational aspect and several themes have sharp, contemporary relevance.
Occasionally, Mal and Wukubuu’s separate narratives could have been a little longer in context and delineated a little clearer but the desperate poignancy that swells in their stories as misunderstandings and mayhem escalate becomes enhanced by the rapid change in voice.
Osborne could have taken the easy, expected trajectory with the teenagers, but instead, he leaves the pair with their personal stories intact rendering them and their fate all the more powerful. It’s a profound ending with a light brush of allegory that gives much to ponder upon.
Bold Crossings thoroughly and comprehensively absorbs the reader into its narrative, characters, and environment. Osborne has written a beautifully genuine and captivating story, skillfully blending historical fact and insight with fiction. Highly recommended.