GOLD RUSH GIRL, by Avi, Candlewick, March 10, 2020, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 10-14)
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was, and continues to be, one of my favorite childhood middle-grade novels. In Gold Rush Girl, Newberry Medalist Avi has created another adventure sure to become a classic.
The last thing Victoria (Tory) Blaisdell wants is to become a lady. She’d much rather go to school and have adventures like her younger brother, Jacob.
When her father decides to make his fortune mining for gold in California, Tory decides she’s going to join him no matter what. But traveling from Rhode Island to California in 1848 is no easy task. Tory stows away on the ship, revealing herself only when it’s too late to send her back.
Tory, Jacob and their father are more than a little surprised by what awaits them in San Francisco. It’s dank, muddy and full of wild and dangerous men. Despite the chaos, Tory’s father decides to leave his children behind. With him gone, Tory flourishes. She finally has the freedom she’s yearned for.
At least she thinks so. But then, Jacob is kidnapped. Tory and her friends begin a dangerous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships. It’s a risky business that could be deadly for Jacob, Tory and their friends.
There’s something about Avi’s writing that draws you in. Even though there’s a formality to speech, and the story is set in the past, there’s a familiarity, an almost rhythm that takes hold.
Tory is a strong protagonist. She is smart and daring. But she’s also flawed. As much as she wants to be free in the world, she doesn’t quite understand the world’s realities. Her sheltered life in Rhode Island gives her a naivety that sometimes backfires, and her passion is both a help and hindrance. Tory comes into her own throughout the novel, and the progression is a delight to discover.
As strong as Avi’s characters are, so too are his settings. From the ship that brings Tory to California to the hills of San Francisco, the world comes alive. I was with Tory as she trudged through thick mud and worked her hands raw climbing aboard empty ships. I could practically smell the food and taste the thick fog as it settled in the bay.
Gold Rush Girl bridges the gap between middle grade and young adult. With the suggested age range of 10-14, it offers a nice middle ground free from tween/teen romance and fantastical literature. It’s a bold adventure that sits well in Avi’s canon.
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