Gold Rush Girl


Newbery Medalist Avi brings us mud-caked, tent-filled San Francisco in 1848 with a willful heroine who goes on an unintended — and perilous — adventure to save her brother.

Victoria Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California.

Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship. Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships.

Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.---from the publisher

320 pages                      978-1536206791                Ages 10-14

Keywords:  historical fiction, 19th century, adventure, kidnapping, hope, risk, girls, ship, gold rush, American history, brothers and sisters, gender roles, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old


“San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.”

-- Paul Kantner

“Thinking of the one I love

You know what I’m thinking of

San Francisco days, San Francisco nights”

-- Chris Isaak (1993)

“Portsmouth Square, or the plaza, as some called it, was the center of the city. It had a flagpole from which hung the United States flag, with its thirty stars. The old Mexican adobe customs house was on the plaza, as was the alcalde’s office, which served as city hall. The post office was near.

It was also where the Parker House and the El Dorado, the city’s biggest gambling saloons, stood. Every hour of every day they drew wagering and drinking men. The drunken, staggering miners often dropped grains of gold on the big, open, muddy area. Jacob and others (including impoverished men) would go there in search of specks and now and again found some. Since gold might be worth from eight to twenty dollars an ounce, it was worth looking.”

As a wide-eyed middle schooler, I experienced San Francisco’s Summer of Love on the evening news. In high school, I soaked in the Last Days of the Fillmore movie with my friends at our local Long Island theater. Shortly thereafter, I attended my first (of many) Airplane and Dead concerts. Within a decade of high school graduation, I followed my heart to California, initially settling in the rural hills north of the Golden Gate. Nowadays, I have the pleasure of living in the magical city that I once dreamed about. The aforementioned Portsmouth Square is just a short block from Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant, an establishment with which I’ve had a thirty-year love affair.

Did you know that in Gold Rush days, before the shoreline was filled and built up, Montgomery Street was on the waterfront? Did you know that a whole fleet of nineteenth century ships are buried amidst the foundations of downtown San Francisco buildings? There is much fascinating San Francisco history and geography tucked into this glorious romp through California’s Gold Rush days. GOLD RUSH GIRL is the best book for young people about the 1849 Gold Rush since Sid Fleischman’s BY THE GREAT HORN SPOON, a book I first read back in fourth grade.

“How fine it all was. I felt as if I were no longer the person I had been in Providence. I had achieved all the independence I could ever want. My spirits were so elevated, I raised my arms high and called out, ‘I love San Francisco!’”

GOLD RUSH GIRL is the story of fourteen-year-old Victoria Blaisdell. Tory is a well-read girl with gumption whose inspiration derives in large measure from her love of Jane Eyre. She’s not willing to be stuck at home in Providence, Rhode Island, while her father and little brother Jacob head out to the Gold Rush. Instead, Tory stows away on their ship and successfully ends up in San Francisco, earning money through odd jobs, and keeping watch over Jacob while their father heads off into the foothills in search of gold. Through her first-person account, we are immersed in the glorious, chaotic, and oft-dangerous daily scene.

The danger increases immeasurably when Jacob suddenly disappears. Tory has good reason to believe that he has been kidnapped and taken aboard a ship. But which one?

Tory joins forces with a pair of resourceful teen boys she’s befriended, one of them a free black with sailing experience. They eventually take possession of a free-for-the-taking thirty-foot ketch that had been abandoned by gold seekers. They head into San Francisco Bay. While I typically don’t pay much attention to dust jackets, Sarah J. Coleman’s eye-catching artwork here is a wonderful representation of the three adolescents, onboard and on their way to find and rescue Jacob.

Avi’s conclusion to the story, while thoroughly fulfilling, begs for a sequel. I, for one, can’t wait!

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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