Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Genre: Historical Fiction
What did you like about the book? 14-year-old Tory Blaisdell chafes at the societal mores of 19th century Providence, and in particular the stern tutelage of her Aunt Lavinia. Tory yearns for adventure, so when her father finds himself unemployed and decides to head for San Francisco with Tory’s younger brother Jacob, she stows away on their ship. Upon arrival, they find that San Francisco is not the civilized city they anticipated, but rather a ramshackle port filled with abandoned ships and a community of tents and shacks. Tory’s father soon heads to the gold-digging sites, leaving her and Jacob to fend for themselves in their new home, with only their neighbor Señor Rosales to look out for them.
Tory finds odd jobs to support them – most ‘unladylike’ jobs such as helping a carpenter and rowing ships’ passengers to shore – and makes a good friend in a boy named Thad. Thad and Tory go off together on a crabbing expedition, and when they return Tory is devastated to find that Jacob has disappeared. After a little investigation, she fears the worst, that Jacob has been “crimped,” or kidnapped and pressed into cabin boy service on an outgoing ship. Tory and Thad, and their new friend Sam, have to race against time to find Jacob before the ship sets sail.
In typical Avi style, readers are immersed in 1848 San Francisco. Vivid imagery and descriptive language paint a detailed picture of the squalid conditions both on board ships and in the city, as well as the mud and the foggy weather which impact many key scenes. Tory’s first person narrative makes the story even more exciting, and makes her character accessible to 21st century readers who will identify with her emotions in many circumstances (especially her desire for something exciting to happen and her resentment at being left to care for her brother). Tory makes a number of mistakes in her quest to rescue Jacob, and her willingness to admit them endears her further to her friends and her readers. This is a fast-paced adventure full of suspense, with likable friends and despicable villains, well worth the voyage.
Anything you didn’t like about it? no
To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary and middle school readers who enjoy Avi’s other historical fiction books, or those by Gary Paulsen, Kathryn Lasky or Laurie Halse Anderson. It would also make for an engrossing readaloud or book study for classrooms where 19th century history is taught.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary/middle school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Leigh King, Lincoln St. Elementary School, Northborough, Mass.
Date of review: 5/15/2020