Brave the Wild River [Book Review] #NonFiction #Botany #booktwitter #bookworm

Brave the Wild River is the true account of two adventurous and determined young women botanists who were the first to map the botany of the Grand Canyon.

Brave the Wild River by Melissa L. Sevigny

Brave the Wild River by Melissa L. Sevigney (cover) Image: white text in a green text box; pictures of the women

Genre/Categories/Setting: Nonfiction, Nature, Botany, Women in Science, Adventure, Exploration, Colorado River, Grand Canyon

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My Summary of Brave the Wild River:

in 1938, Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter joined an expedition leader and three boatmen to venture down the dangerous Colorado River to map the botany of the Grand Canyon. Brave the Wild River is the account of their forty-three day journey. Along with wild rapids, steep cliffs, and and challenging conditions, the women also faced sexism.

Brave the Wild River expedition members
From Brave the Wild River, chapter one:
“One hundred miles to the southwest as the crow flies, the Colorado River flowed into the maw of a mysterious canyon that no botanist had ever explored from head to foot. There’s no way of knowing how the thought of the Grand Canyon first entered Clover’s head. Perhaps it was merely the lure of those unknown plants, or perhaps Nevills had spoken of his dream one evening at the lodge. A guide would come in handy, Clover thought. She made a bold suggestion: they could take mules into the Grand Canyon to collect cacti for research.
A pack train wouldn’t do, declared Nevills. They would have to go by boat. In a few minutes they laid out the entire harebrained scheme.”
(Photo caption: The crew arrives at Lake Mead. From left to right, top row: Dell Reed, Norm Nevills, Emery Kolb. Bottom row: Bill Gibson, Elzada Clover, Lois Jotter, and Lorin Bell.)
~image and excerpt from the publisher

My Thoughts:


In 1938, the Colorado River was considered the most dangerous river in the world. Loss of life for those brave enough to explore it was not uncommon.

Botany was considered an acceptable science for women in 1938. After all, collecting flowers in your yard or while on a stroll, was a ladylike activity and could cause no harm. When two women wanted to brave the Colorado River to map the botany of the Grand Canyon, this brought considerable criticism and concern. Women were challenging gender roles and risking their lives rather than strolling in their gardens.

On the trip itself, guess who did the cooking? The two women of course!

Time and Place

If you have been to the Colorado River and Grand Canyon, you will appreciate the vivid descriptions of the geographic features in 1938. Through the author’s words, you will feel the rushing and dangerous water, fear the boulders, experience the hot sun and sudden storms, taste the campfire meals, visualize the plants collected, and enjoy the colorful characters. You might also be outraged or at least amazed by the sexism.

Recommending Brave the Wild River

I can recommend Brave the Wild River for nature enthusiasts, for readers who are familiar with the Grand Canyon (or want to know more), for those who are interested in stories of women in STEM, and for fans of stories featuring real life, determined, courageous, and inspirational women and their achievements.

Related: Another story (fictionalized biography) of a woman in STEM is The Woman With the Cure.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Meet the Author of Brave the Wild River, Melissa L. Sevigny

Author of Brave the Wild River, Melissa L. Sevigny

Melissa L. Sevigny grew up in Tucson, Arizona where she fell in love with the Sonoran Desert’s ecology, geology and dark desert skies. Her lyrical nonfiction explores the intersections of science, nature, and history, with a focus on the American Southwest. Her work has appeared in Orion,, the Atavist Magazine, and on NPR. She has worked as a science communicator in the fields of water policy, sustainable agriculture, and space exploration. She is currently the science reporter at KNAU (Arizona Public Radio) and lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Learn more about her at


Is this nonfiction on your TBR or have you read it?

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***Blog posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

I purchase or borrow from the library all books I review unless explicitly stated that the book is free (arc).

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  1. That expedition is a long way from the idealised image of prettily dressed ladies collecting a few butterflies before returning home to cake and tea!

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