I snatched this one up from the new books display shelf at my local library. The cover was appealing and the blurb convinced me to check it and bring it home. I wanted to read it before we left town but Cutting For Stone took a loooong time to finish so I decided to brought it along and finished it in DC.
Amelia, her mother and her mother's friend, Estelle arrive in San Francisco from Boston by boat. They arrive broke and in need of shelter and food. Estelle and Amelia's mother plan to open a dress shop and have brought trunks of fabric but have spent too much money on the trip. They've taken a chance on this trip to build a new life for themselves; to find a home where women can exist on their own so it comes as no surprise that strong-willed Amelia sets her heart on sellling newspapers even after repeatedly being told it's not a job for young ladies.
She cuts her hair and begs her mother to sew her boy's clothes in order to join up with a gang of enterprising young men. Her desire to write the news for the local paper sends her to the flagship flight of a hot air balloon where she assists and takes the ride of her life, making everyone think she and her companion are dead. She brings home money, has adventures and struggles with her identity both as a "boy" and as a fatherless daughter. She breaks ground in a new land and follows her dream, which make her a powerful character, perfect for young readers.
I think this one will appeal to its intended audience more than adults. Ketchum spells out all the complicated questions Amelia has and a young audience will appreciate this help. Everything under the sun occurs to Amelia and this overwhelmed me as a reader. The fire, kidnapping, looting, a street fight and money stolen seemed a lot for one book. Someone mentions getting shanghai'd on the docks...she gets shanghai'd by two sailors.
Trapped in a runaway hot air balloon and her struggle to get home seemed enough of an added adventure to focus on. After her ballooning experience while she is stuck in the mountains was enjoyable as she learned about panning for gold. The story did push the envelope on women's rights, racism and pioneer struggles. I enjoyed the idea of the subtle same sex relationship between Estelle and Sophie and that Amelia eventually concluded having Estelle in her life was just about as good as having a father but in general the book left me feeling a little flat.
In a Nutshell:
Author's website: Liza Ketchum
Genre: Historical Fiction
Time Period: 1851 (Gold Rush, California)
Audience: elementary (4-6)
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