Gold Rush Girl
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.
Praise For Gold Rush Girl…
—Booklist (starred review)
Avi evokes Gold Rush-era San Francisco through Tory's eyes with empathy and clarity while keeping the action lively. A splendidly exciting and accessible historical adventure.
Containing strong feminist themes, this fast-paced tale vividly contrasts the wildness of 19th-century San Francisco with stuffier New England. Tory is a brave yet naive protagonist, who makes a number of mistakes before proving herself a hero, and her dangerous encounters with unscrupulous villains provide nonstop excitement and suspense.
When Victoria Blaisdell’s recently unemployed father catches gold fever and intends to head west, it’s Tory’s chance to escape her family’s rigid expectations...Tory still delivers the goods for adventure-hungry historical fiction fans.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Avi once more proves himself a master of historical fiction, effectively using Tori’s search to immerse readers in the city’s sights and sounds. Fully realized supporting characters reflect the mélange of cultures and dreams that brought people to California in search of gold...A first purchase for all middle grade libraries.
—School Library Journal
Readers...will experience a great historical adventure through the streets, ships, and harbors of San Francisco. They'll learn about crimps who kidnap men and children and force them to work on ships. Readers will also fall in love with Tory, whose independence is tested when Jacob goes missing on her watch. She will join forces with her newfound friends to find the brother whom she once wished wasn't always around, but would ultimately risk her life to save.
—School Library Connection
Readers are thrust into a rip-roaring adventure, filled with suspense and danger, and open-ended enough for a sequel.
—The Horn Book
Candlewick, 9781536206791, 320pp.
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. On the first page, Tory explains that she was struck by lightning, meaning gold, which was the “shatter-wit world of those who seek it.” What does she mean by that? Why does she compare gold to lightning? How does gold turn her world “topsy-turvy,” and how does it lead to her doing “things I never dreamed I would or could do” (page 1)?
2. The book opens in Providence, Rhode Island, but most of it takes place in San Francisco, California. Compare the two cities at that time. What surprises Tory about San Francisco when she first gets there? Contrast her living situations in the two cities and how she feels about both.
3. Describe the restrictions on Tory as a girl in Providence and compare them to her restrictions in San Francisco. Why does she have so much freedom in California? Why aren’t there more girls and women there? What parts of Tory’s new life would shock Aunt Lavinia? What judgments do you think Aunt Lavinia would make about those changes?
4. Why are books so important in Tory’s life in Providence? Discuss her belief that the value of reading “is not to learn about others. It is to learn about oneself” (page 7). She goes on to say that Jane Eyre “transformed my life” (page 7). Why does she think that? She describes Jane Eyre as living “a life written with exclamation points!!!!” (page 9). How is that also true of Tory?
5. What kind of person is Jacob? Describe his relationship with Tory in Providence and how it changes when they get to San Francisco. Compare their reactions to San Francisco. Why does Tory describe Jacob as clinging “like a barnacle” (page 91)? Explain how Jacob goes missing and why Tory feels so guilty about it.
6. What is Tory’s father like in Providence, and why does she find him frustrating? Why does he believe that it will be easy to find gold and get rich in California? What was the reality? Discuss the extent to which Father’s prediction was or wasn’t true: “The only thing that will change is our geography” (page 24).
7. How does Tory feel about her mother? At what points does her view of her mother change? What is Mother’s reaction to San Francisco, and why? What is her reaction to how Tory has changed? How do you think Mother felt about Tory’s announcement that she was headed to the gold fields?
8. Why doesn’t Father want to take Tory with him to San Francisco? Why is he willing to take Jacob? Why does Tory want to go so badly? Explain how she manages to sneak aboard the ship. What does the action show about Tory’s character? How do her mother and brother help her, and why? What is her father’s reaction?
9. Why do you think Tory and Thad become such good friends? What is Thad like? What is his background? How does he help Tory, and how does she help him?
10. Where is Sam from, and how did he end up in San Francisco? What is Sam’s situation there? Describe what he does for work and where he lives. What happened to Sam’s brother? What obstacles does Sam face because he’s black?
11. Why is Sam reluctant to become friends with Tory? How does that change? What knowledge and skills does he have that Thad and Tory lack? Describe how Sam is instrumental in saving Jacob, why he does it, and what price he pays in the process. What are Sam’s hopes and dreams, and how does Tory plan to help him achieve them?
12. Why is Señor Rosales in San Francisco, and where is his family? Tory describes him as “wise, kind, and generous” (page 82). Find scenes where he shows these qualities. How does he make a living? What other ways of making money does Tory see in San Francisco that don’t include digging for gold?
13. Who would you characterize as the villains in the story? Describe them, their actions, and their motivations. What makes them effective villains? What happens to them at the end, and why?
14. Describe the plan that Tory and her friends devise for rescuing Jacob. What part do each of them play in the rescue? What are some setbacks and dangers they face, and how do they overcome them? What will happen to Jacob if they don’t succeed?
15. The rescue leads them into an area of the San Francisco Bay called Rotten Row. Why is it called that? Why are the ships there? Why are they so important to the story? How do the number of ships and their condition make it difficult for the friends to find Jacob? Talk about what happened to the ships historically and whether the history of the ships surprised you.
16. What do you think lies ahead for Tory, Thad, and Sam at the end of the novel? Discuss the new name of their ship, Our Destiny, and tie it in to Tory’s reading of Jane Eyre. Find examples of how Tory decides her own destiny throughout the story.
17. From the beginning, Tory’s narrative uses metaphors, similes, and other figurative language to paint pictures and convey meaning. When the book opens, her family’s untroubled life is “as smooth as Chinese silk” (page 2). Aunt Lavinia’s shape reminds Tory of “a walking mountain, and a volcano at that” (page 3). Discuss these comparisons and their effect on you as a reader. Find other examples of figurative speech in the novel and talk about what they add.
18. How does the author create excitement and suspense in the story? What parts of the plot are especially dramatic? Find elements of the storytelling, such as cliffhangers, that create suspense. Analyze the language and sentences in a particularly fast-paced scene to see what makes it exciting.