The Devil’s Paintbox: racism, poverty, war, and alcoholism

devilspaintbox The Devil’s Paintbox, by Victoria McKernan, is a historical fiction novel that takes place just after the American Civil War.  The story follows Aiden Lynch, a 16-year-old boy, and his journey with his sister to from Kansas to Seattle on an Oregon Trail wagon train.

During the course of his journey, he meets a tribe of Native Americans who are threatened by smallpox, or the Devil’s paintbox.  This book paints a clear picture of life out west, especially the absurd juxtaposition of the defeat of slavery with the callous disregard for the Native people. McKernan does not glorify the time period at all, but the book always avoids becoming overly dark or depressing, even when things are at their bleakest.

The Devil’s Paintbox touches on many themes in its winding journey, including racism, poverty, war, and alcoholism.  Yet, despite these dark themes, the book has a hopeful message and maintains a focus on its main characters.

The Devil’s Paintbox was a surprisingly gripping book to me.  I don’t often read historical fiction novels, but Aiden’s story is interesting enough to have come from a made-up universe, yet the fact that it does come from our (fairly recent) history adds another layer to the book.  Overall, this book was very interesting and fun to read, and made me consider the time period in a different light.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fast-paced novels with interesting characters.

–Jacob, 16, Greenwood


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