Friday, May 13, 2016

by Lorraine Boissoneault

How does one celebrate America's two-hundredth anniversary? Reid Lewis, a French teacher from a suburb in Chicago, had the idea of reenacting a 3,300-mile canoe journey from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico. He wanted to emulate Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle's long voyage. La Salle was the first European that traversed from Montreal to the mouth of the Mississippi River. It would be called La Salle: Expedition II. The expedition would be made up of twenty-three men, sixteen of which would be teenagers who had just graduated high school along with six teachers. They would take the names of the original French voyageurs (look, act, and behave like them), make their own seventeenth-century clothes, build their own canoes, and give performances along the way to the communities. There was no way, though, that Lewis could lead this expedition alone, so he asked his brother, Ken, to help. Canoeing was right up their alley. Just a month prior, the two of them had followed and reenacted the trek of another French explorer (Louis Jolliet), but Lewis and Ken had just paddled half of the Mississippi River. The students would need to do research projects and get up to speed with both the physical and mental trials they would experience. Lewis wanted teachers who could be tremendous assets during the trip. They had two years to plan everything.
The Last Voyageurs is an extremely well-written book about a daring group of young men who were involved in the adventure of a lifetime. For eight months, they left their families and dealt with hardship, difficult personalities, a limited diet, camping out in makeshift tents (canoes turned on their sides with tarps), dangerous waters, learning how to get along with others in very tight spaces, and homesickness. The chapters are laid out with the historical aspect of the original voyage and at the same time, the present trip. In this way, you get the feel of what actually happened three hundred years ago, but also see how the young voyageurs attempted to be like those men and experience what they went through.
I loved reading this story. It's a real page turner. If you enjoy adventure tales, you must get this book. Between the astute sketches of the characters involved and the way author Lorraine Boissoneault melds everything together keeps you riveted. I really did not want this book to end. Hopefully, Boissoneault will surface again with another terrific escapade. I will be eagerly waiting.
Very highly recommended. 

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