Gold Rush Girl by Avi

Gold Rush Girl

Avi, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 10, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Gold Rush, San Francisco, Tent City, Danger, Independence, Freedom, Friendship

Opening: “Have you ever been struck by lightning?
I have.
I write not of the sparkling that bolts from the sky, but of gold, the yellow metal buried in the earth and the shatter-wit world of those who seek it. That world turned me topsy-turvy, so that I did things I never dreamed I would or could do.”

Publisher Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Victoria (Tory) 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.

Why I like this book:

Avi’s story is electrifying — pun intended! His storytelling is rich and visual and will stimulate your senses. Readers will smell the stench of San Francisco — the rotting boats,  street sewage, drunken and sweaty men, and soaked sailcloth tents. They will feel what it’s like to trudge through thick mud and dense fog. “The land of glittering gold revealed itself as mostly rich in rubbish.” 

What a joy it is to journey with Tory (13) and experience the gold rush through her point of view. With gold fever high, the plot is brimming with excitement, trickery, risks and danger. The research that went into every detail of this story, really gives readers insight into this historical time period. When Tory and her family arrive in San Francisco Bay, she is shocked to see hundreds of ships that were deserted in what was called the Rotten Row. Sea captains and their crews headed towards the gold fields. Make sure you read Avi’s note and map about the shipsof Rotten Row at the end, because it is fascinating!

The characters are multi-layered, but memorable. Tory is a spunky and determined heroine. When her father leaves for the gold fields, Tory is left to care for her young brother, Jacob (9), who is sullen, worries and waits on the beach for his mother to arrive. Because of the high cost of food and supplies, their money runs out. Tory buys men’s clothing and finds work rowing arriving passengers ashore, working construction and doing other jobs. She’s paid in grains of gold and is delighted that she is gaining more wealth in the city than her father is laboring in the fields. Tory is living the freedom and independence that’s she’s longed for. She’s happy, physically and mentally strong.

There many colorful characters in the story. Tory develops a friendship with Thad, who works at a local store and helps her improve her rowing skills. Thad is a calm and quiet and a nice balance for Tory. But he also enjoys taking risks, drinking and gambling. Across the street from her tent, is Senor Rosales, a Mexican café owner. He is a kind “uncle” and does his best to keep an eye on both Jacob and Tory. She also befriends a black boy, Sam, who plays his bugle at a shady saloon owned by an evil man, Mr. Kassel. When Jacob suddenly disappears, it is Sam who tells Tory about seeing Jacob at the Mercury and fears he’s been kidnapped and is being held on a vacant ship. The threesome jump into action to save Jacob’s life. Tory must rescue Jacob before her father returns from and gold fields and her mother arrives from Providence.

Avi leaves the story open-ended. There is so much more he could write about Tory and her friends. After all, San Francisco exists as a tent city. I hope there is a sequel. This book belongs in every school library. Verdict: This book is a winner!

Avi is one of the most celebrated authors writing for children today. He has written published over 70 books. Among his most popular books are Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing but the Truth, the Poppy books, Midnight Magic, The Fighting Ground and the City of Orphans. having received two Boston-Globe – Horn Book Awards, a Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, a Christopher Award, a Newbery Medal, and two Newbery Honors. He lives in Colorado.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided fee by the publisher in exchange for a review.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

18 thoughts on “Gold Rush Girl by Avi

  1. What an interesting part of history for children to read about in such an exciting story. Your recommendation is high praise, Patricia.


    • Yes, my kind of story too! I love strong female characters. Tory is naively independent in the beginning, and readers will watch her transform as the story moves forward. Couldn’t put it down! If you haven’t read an Avi book, you are in for a treat — such a literary storyteller.


  2. As a Californian since the age of 6, I know a lot about the California gold rush and have been fortunate enough to visit a majority of the Gold Rush towns as a kid and an adult. However, I have never read a book told from the point of view of a young person. This sounds awesome to me! I will definitely be seeking a copy when things open up again around here. Thanks for sharing your insights on this book for MMGM, Patricia!


    • I imagine you would know so much more, living in California. Have you read any of Avi’s literary work? He’s a brilliant author. And, this novel may be among his finest! And, I am so hoping for a sequel, because he left the opening at the end. There is so much more to tell in this story — it has just begun!


  3. I’ve been really enjoying historical fiction lately, and this one sounds like an interesting time period I haven’t read about. I’ll definitely look for it in the library when it opens back up.


    • I knew very little about the gold rush, so I took it on a chance. Boy was delighted from page one. Couldn’t put the novel down because it was such a delight to watch Tory blossom, where others withered at the culture shock. Her focus wasn’t on finding gold, it was on finding independence, freedom and purpose in life. Hope there is a sequel!


  4. This sounds like a thrilling, exciting story! The variety of characters and vivid setting make it sound especially appealing. Thanks so much for the excellent review!


  5. I’ve enjoyed many of Avi’s works over the years but had not heard of this one (until today!). Your review expertly laid out all the elements that make this a must read. The time period and MC being at the forefront. Thanks so much for featuring GOLD RUSH GIRL on MMGM. I’m adding it to my summer reading list.


    • Greg, I hope you get a chance to read and review this book. Avi’s presentation is brilliant. Everyone is heading to the gold rush to win big, but not Tory. Her focus is gaining indepence and freedom from her “proper” New England upbringing and find purpose in her life. The male characters are strong too. And, the ending leaves this story open to a sequel! So much more to tell about the building of San Francisco and more adventures.


  6. I like spunky girl characters, and I like adventures. This sounds terrific. I have a read a couple books by Avi and enjoyed them. I will look for this one. Thanks for the heads up.


    • Tory is a character you will cherish. While others are seeking gold and failing, she’s seeking independence and freedom and purpose in her life. It is a beautiful journey and I hope he writes a sequel. Thrilling read!


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