John Steinbeck had his poodle, Charley. B.J. Hollars has his son, Henry.
In summer 2018, Hollars, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, set out to drive the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon. "Go West, Young Man" (Bison Books), his entertaining and earnest memoir of the trip, is illustrated with drawings by 6-year-old Henry, who also contributes many of the book's witticisms and comic relief.
The trip takes two weeks, and along the way they visit every historical site, visitors' center and sad, remote grave they can find, while Hollars takes on the monumental task of educating Henry (and himself) about Native history, the immigrants' travails and the concept of Manifest Destiny.
He augments the narrative of their journey with loads of historical context, as well as quotes and anecdotes from journals and letters of the original immigrants. And he is painstaking in telling readers that he realizes he is the wrong person to be recounting Native history but that he couldn't write the book without it. He seems a supremely well-meaning fellow.
Even so, when he tells a friend that everyone they met along the way has been warm and friendly, he's taken aback when the friend notes, "I wonder how your trip might've been different if you weren't a straight white guy with a 6-year-old."
"Go West" is a sweet read, part memoir, part history, part awakening — both for Henry and for his dad.