Go West, Young Man
A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail
by B.J. Hollars
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Pub Date 01 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2021
University of Nebraska Press, Bison Books
At the sound of the bell on the last day of kindergarten, B.J. Hollars and his six-year-old son, Henry, hop in the car to strike out on a 2,500-mile road trip retracing the Oregon Trail. Their mission: to rediscover America, and Americans, along the way. Throughout their two-week adventure, they endure the usual setbacks (car trouble, inclement weather, and father-son fatigue), but their most compelling drama involves people, privilege, and their attempt to find common ground in an all-too-fractured country.
Writing in the footsteps of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Hollars picks up the trail with his son more than half a century later. Together they sidle up to a stool at every truck stop, camp by every creek, and roam the West. They encounter not only the beauty and heartbreak of America, but also the beauty and heartbreak of a father and son eager to make the most of their time together. From Chimney Rock to Independence Rock to the rocky coast of Oregon, they learn and relearn the devastating truth of America’s exploitative past, as well as their role within it.
Go West, Young Man recounts the author’s effort to teach his son the difficult realities of our nation’s founding while also reaffirming his faith in America today.
“Hollars resists easy ideas and easy answers, but the insights that he does reach are presented effectively and compellingly. . . . Go West, Young Man asks big questions about the multiplicity of American identities and narratives, and offers us a view toward how a father and son can answer them.”—Colin Rafferty, author of Execute the Office and Hallow This Ground
“The Oregon Trail was once firmly woven into America’s idea of itself due in part to chroniclers like Francis Parkman, who lit out in 1846 with horse and mule cart ‘on a tour of curiosity and amusement.’ More than a century and a half later, B.J. Hollars and his six-year-old son embark in a rented vehicle along the same westward route and with the same intention. In this mock adventure, father and son endure prairie swales and cyclonic winds, KOAs and interpretive centers, and self-inflicted dad jokes—all to answer this country’s most enduring question: Who are we?”—John Hildebrand, author of Long Way Round: Through the Heartland by River
Average rating from 17 members
Go West, Young Man was a really fun read. In the tradition of Bill Bryson’s travel writing, B.J. Hollars does a great job mixing the personal stories of his father-son trip with historical writing about the Oregon Trail. He doesn’t shy away from the more difficult aspects of westward expansion, but at the same time he manages to capture the joy he felt at being able to take this trip with his son. Go West, Young Man will inspire you to take a road trip with your loved ones!
I enjoyed reading this father and young son adventure about their road trip across the United States. Not only was it fun to read, but there was just enough history of the places that the visited and events that took place there to make it more interesting.
Of course with most vacations everything doesn't always go exactly as planned, but that is what creates memories. Thanks for the opportunity to review this excellent book.
What a great summer read! I really enjoyed this sweet story of a father/son road trip following the Oregon Trail!
I love a good travel story and this was really well done. The author did a great job weaving in historical narratives from Oregon Trail emigrates that I hadn’t heard before. And the story really got better and better with each chapter. I walked away with some big thoughts about white privilege (especially in how it relates to the stories we learn about our past) and about how precious our time is with our kids are when they young. Before reading this I would have thought age 6 was way too young for a summer road trip across the country, but now it seems like a great age for it.
Go West, Young Man, B.J. Hollars’s account of the Oregon Trail road trip he shared with his six-year-old son, Henry, will be a fun read for anyone who enjoys similar road trips of their own. Smartly, Hollars spends a substantial amount of time in this travel memoir exploring his evolving relationship with Henry (who, if he is even half as precocious as his dad portrays him to be here, is quite the character) as the long hours in the car began to wear a bit on both of them. It didn’t hurt, too, that I read Go West, Young Man during my own 5,000 mile road trip with my nineteen-year-old grandson. As we came upon some of the landmarks highlighted in the Hollars book, I knew what to expect, which landmarks to explore more deeply, and was happier and happier that my grandson was enjoying the trip — and (supposedly) my company — as much as I had hoped he would.
B.J. and Henry were on a mission to rediscover America, both as the country was in the past and the way it is today. And they did it the hard way. They usually camped out along the way, very rarely breaking up the camping routine by a hotel stay or a night spent in the home of friends. And I suspect that the occasional thunderstorm or heavy winds they endured and conquered will likely turn out to be some of their strongest memories of the entire trip.
Father and son met their goals: they completed the Oregon Trail together and they met enough people along the way, including cross country truck drivers, to get a good feel about both the things that still bind Americans together and the things, mostly political, that so destructively divide those same Americans today. Mr. Hollars used the trip as a means of educating his young son to the realities of the exploitive nature of America’s move west, and what he has to say on the subject is a disturbing reminder of how destructive the westward migration of settlers was to the native peoples already there.
Bottom Line: Go West, Young Man is fun. I think it’s a little heavy-handed at times on the guilt trip associated with the author’s reaction to how terribly our native peoples were treated by white settlers of the day, but there are plenty of reasons — and takeaways — to read this fun travel memoir. I have to admit that I particularly enjoyed reading about the author’s interface with Henry during such an extended road and camping trip, but I also learned much about the key spots along the Oregon Trail and how important it was to this country’s westward expansion. I recommend this one to all the road-trippers out there. You’ll enjoy it.
Thank you, NetGalley, for the opportunity to read this book.
I really enjoyed Hollars' account of his journey from Eau Claire to Oregon's Williamette Valley via Independence, Missouri and the famous Oregon trail with his six year old son. Hollars packed a lot into his two-week journey, and into this relatively short book. I loved how he included his interviews with rangers, museum directors and other experts, as well as "regular" people like Liz who came to his reading. Even with a journey as well mapped and scripted as the Oregon Trail, it's so often the unplanned elements that are the most memorable. Appreciated his attempt to look at the Trail and its stories through a DEI lens and his exploration of the Native people's stories, which could be another book in itself. A solid read.
Thank you Netgalley for the digital advanced readers copy of Go West, Young Man: A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail by B. J. Hollars in exchange for my honest review.
Go West, Young Man: A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail is B.J. Hollars account of his cross-country road trip with his 6-year-old son, Henry. They set off on a 2,500-mile journey along the Oregon Trail to "rediscover" America. They both learn a lot on this journey - both on how the country once was and how it is now, as well as their own relationship. As much as it is a story on their journey, it provides plenty of travel tips and ideas as well. I don't feel as if I connected with the author as much as I thought I would, but this was a good book, sometimes a bit heavy and sad, but nonetheless, good reading. Perfect for those cross-country road trips we all love.
I had to request this book when I saw it was available and was pleased when I received an ARC. I just finished it and it is a pleasurable read. A father and son traverse the span of the Oregon trail, finding delights, adventure, and a sense of themselves along the way. I enjoyed the snippets of historical detail Hollars included and the snapshots of people they encountered. Henry did very well on the journey for just being 6 years old. I have made that same trek myself and enjoyed revisiting the sites through reading. My two favorites were the museums in Independence, MO and Baker City, OR. The End of the Oregon Trail Museum was closed when I tried to visit it amd I totally missed the Bear Valley site. The author has a tendency to be a little preachy but it doesn’t detract from the writing.
Enjoyed both the journey in the relationship between father and son....as well as the juxtaposition of historical information. I love that the father would take the time to plan such a meaningful trip with his son - something we need to do more of in this world
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Go West, Young Man: A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail by B. J. Hollars is a travelogue of the author, retracing the Oregon Trail with his six-year-old son. Mr. Hollars is a writer, a teacher, and yes, a father.
The last several years I had developed an interest in travelogues. At first, I thought it was because my family and I were about to embark on our own mid-west, 3-week, adventure. But even though we came back a few months ago, the genre still fascinates me.
In Go West, Young Man: A Father and Son Rediscover America on the Oregon Trail by B. J. Hollars we join a father and son retracing the path of the emigrants. Henry, the son, is only six, so burying his face in a cellphone for hours on end during the long rides is not an option.
I do commiserate with days of endless driving, and even if you plan stops every 100 miles or so.
Along the way, both father and son rediscover America, and find they American they didn’t know existed. Amazingly, the dynamic duo did this while camping most of the time. On our trip we at least had a hot shower waiting at the end of the day.
As in any trip, whether its 5,000 miles or to the local supermarket, the people you meet will always make or break the day. Much like our trip, the vast majority of people we met were kind, interesting, and helpful. The author pontificates of how his trip would have in any other skin is an interesting realization. This is especially true when the politics and destruction of the westward migration settles in. I’m not talking about the Donner Party specifically, but also about the way Native Americans were treated, and the ridiculousness of “Manifest Destiny”.
Even though there are some heavy parts, this is a fun book. The charm is, of course, the author and his son interacting on such a long trip, as well as learning a bit of history along the way.
A beautifully written biography, chronicling the travels of a father and son, while also sharing the history of the Oregon Trail. I found myself captured completely by Hollars' writing, feeling as though I was an old friend hearing the story over a beer one night. Perfection!
This was a fun read with a good bit of American history thrown in. A father thinks a cross country trip with his young child would be a great bonding and memory-making experience for them both. You can tell the dad spent a great deal of time planning the route to include a ton of historical sites but didn't quite understand how tedious the in-between parts on the road would be to a little boy. Nevertheless, they had a better time than one would expect and readers are treated to manageable chunks of American history interspersed with things occasionally going sideways. 3.5 stars, possibly 4 stars.
I always love a good road-trip story. And since I was about to drive west on my own American continental adventure, finding this book felt like good timing. First off: the bravery of this person! To drive across the country and visit all these historical sites with a little kid! It's a no from me. But at the same time, they experienced some real father/son bonding, and it was sweet. I feel very happy to have been allowed to share in their journey together. While this isn't the best read for those more academically interested in the Oregon Trail, it's a great read for anyone interested in the pleasure of bonding with family, and heck, who might be considering a crazy road trip of their own.
B.J.Hollars and his young son fly out west, rent a vehicle, and do a two-week road trip. The book is a pleasant read about a father and son spending time together exploring new places and seeing each other in a new light. The writing is usually upbeat and informative. This is a book that could motivate other families to take a road trip and to write about it as you travel.
4.5 adventurous stars, rounded up
B.J. Hollars and his 6-year-old son, Henry, set off on an adventure following the Oregon Trail. They’ve got much to learn… “about history. And geography. And art. And meteorology. And cooking. And tire changing. And oil changing. And the importance of staking down tents.” This funny travelogue is full of excellent writing and broad thoughts.
I love that the book included photos of the author and son along important way points, like their first McDonald’s, as well as historic paintings and Henry’s renderings (which unfortunately were not included in the ARC.) The personal touches, whether a father’s musings, or descriptions by pioneers make this book amusing and memorable.
Hollars takes a balanced approach in discussing Native American contributions. He tells his son that “westward expansion and its aftermath is really a story about power – who had it, who didn’t and the price that was paid as a result.” They seek out Native American sites, museums and guides and relay fresh perspectives on a part of the Oregon Trail that is too often overlooked.
Recommended for (as the dedication reads) “travelers- past, present, and future.“ Go West, Young Man is tender, informative and funny. It makes me want to hit the trail.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I loved the premise of B. J. Hollars' book, Go West, Young Man. I have long been a fan of the Oregon trail (thanks to the epic computer game!) and exploring the history of the trail across the country was fantastic. I also adored that the author shared this journey with his six year old son. Hollars is a great writer and his humor/wit was apparent throughout the book. Sometimes (and I'm sure this was a bit of creative license), Henry seemed quite a bit older than six in his comments, attitude, and abilities. But all in all that is not a huge complaint. Much respect to the author for his work and research throughout the trail while parenting!
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a free ebook copy. All opinions are my own.
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