Donner Dinner Party
by Nathan Hale
Amulet, 2013. 123 pgs. Comics/Graphic Novels
Nathan Hale's third book in his Hazardous Tales series is grimmer than the first two; a graphic novel that tastefully considers a graphic subject--the ill-fated Donner party. Hale's story makes abundantly clear how truly ill-fated they were, what with James Reed foolishly--even idiotically--leading them off onto the Hastings Cut-Off in spite of numerous warnings, and the later decision not to summit the Sierra Nevada range the day before the snows fell in earnest, not to mention the accidental and clearly murderous deaths that troubled the party even before that point. Hale lifts the gloom as much as he can through the framing device of the original Nathan Hale's storytelling to his hangman and to the British captain. "What's cannonballism?" asks the disingenuous hangman, who is also brokenhearted over the loss of animals along the Donner's trail, but cares not a fig for the human deaths. Hale also gives the fainthearted a way out. As the historical Nathan Hale tells his listeners that things actually do get much worse for the Donner party, he tells the squeamish to skip to page 113 to miss the worst of it. But there is a limit to what can be toned down about people who would not only eat their already dead companions, but kill others for the meat they would provide. Hale's latest Hazardous Tale (Threat Level: Tragic) is, as we have come to expect, a work of extraordinary skill and restraint, terrible tragedy expertly retold with a judicious and sensitive comic relief. Parents may wish to read this one first, or with their children.