In 1848, Providence, R.I., 13-year-old Victoria Blaisdell—known to her friends and family as Tory—chafes under the social restrictions placed on girls during that time. She is barred from attending school and unable to satiate her vast curiosity about the world. Also, she longs to be free of her tyrannical Aunt Lavinia, who insists that Tory will one day be subject to Jacob, her brother, younger by four years, and he will be head of the family. Though young, Tory’s spirited response foreshadows her future: “Jacob shall have his life. I shall have mine.”
Though an organized education is off limits, Tory’s sympathetic mother teaches her how to read and write (as her own mother had done when she was a child). Also, Jacob shares his school lessons with Tory. Captivated by reading, Tory encounters her heroine, Jane Eyre, and longs to emulate her bravery and independence.
When Tory’s father loses his job and, in desperation, decides to go to California to dig for gold to restore the family’s fortunes, he decides to take Jacob with him and leave Tory behind to help her mother. But the bold girl sees her chance for freedom and adventure; she stows away on the ship carrying her father and Jacob and reveals herself once it is underway.
Filled with wondrous, yet vague heroic dreams of independence and a desire to “amaze the world,” Tory is unprepared for the filth, squalor, danger, and despair of San Francisco, When her father leaves for the gold fields and puts Jacob in her care, Tory is resentful and angry.
Caught up in her new life, she neglects Jacob. When he goes missing—possibly kidnapped—Tory’s world crashes and she comes face-to-face with her selfishness, foolish dreams, and regrets. Still, with the help of new, courageous friends, Tory resolutely sets out to find Jacob, a greater treasure than gold or dreams of independence and greatness.
Gold Rush Girl, a fast-paced novel for middle-grade readers, paints a riveting picture of life during the California gold rush years and shows how, in the chaos where fortunes were won and lost in rapid succession, at times social restrictions were challenged and, occasionally, upended. (Candlewick)