One of our recommended books for 2020 is Gold Rush Girl by Avi


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,

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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.

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.

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  • Candlewick Press
  • Hardcover
  • March 2020
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781536206791

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About Avi

Avi is the author of Gold Rush Girl, credit Katherine WadeAvi, one of the most celebrated children’s writers, has been awarded a Newbery Medal, two Newbery Honors, two Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, a Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and a Christopher Award. Avi was raised in Brooklyn and lived for some years on Sheldon Street in Providence, Rhode Island, but now he makes his home in Colorado.


“With his characteristically suspenseful style, Avi crafts a rousing historical adventure helmed by a spirited protagonist whom readers will love. Tory’s first-person narration further connects readers to the gold rush-era story, which concludes with room for future exploits. One of Avi’s best.” Booklist (starred review)

“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.” Publishers Weekly 

“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.” Kirkus Reviews 

“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.” School Library Journal

Discussion Questions

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.



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.

It began, fittingly, in a leap year: 1848. I was thirteen years old.

My family — Father (Randolph Blaisdell); Mother (Abigail Pell Blaisdell); my younger brother, Jacob; and I, Victoria, most often called Tory — was residing in the smallest state in these United States: Rhode Island. We had a home in Providence, the state’s major city, with its fine buildings, wealth, tranquility, and a population of forty thousand.

Our home was 15 Sheldon Street, a modest but agreeable wooden house on the east side of town. It stood upon “The Hill,” as it was smartly called, above commercial Wickenden Street. We had a cook and one servant, both of whom lived in our attic.

Our lives were comfortable, with nothing unusual ever happening. Indeed, my early family life was untroubled, as smooth as Chinese silk. I questioned nothing, not about the world or about myself. My entire universe was Sheldon Street, which meant I knew everyone as they knew me. As for my social life, it consisted of calling and receiving among a small group of proper neighborhood girls.

As one grows up, it can take a while to understand that sometimes it is not your mother or father who have the greatest influence on your life. ­Thus it was but gradually that I came to realize that the person who shaped my life more than any other was my mother’s older sister, Aunt Lavinia.

Since the two sisters were from the distinguished Rhode Island Pell family, Lavinia already considered herself quite the queen. ­ Then, before I was born, she married Quincy Fellows, a wealthy Pawtucket cloth-factory owner. ­ That made her — in her mind — an empress.

A tall, big woman, with hanging coils of braid alongside her puffy face, which peered out from a deep, dark bonnet, she wore long, wide gowns with bulging sleeves, a shape that made me think of her as a walking mountain, and a volcano at that. Indeed, she constantly erupted with lava-like judgments, advice, and instructions as to how my family should live our lives. All of which is to say, while my mother and father raised me, their words were almost always prefaced by “As your aunt Lavinia suggests . . .”

One of Aunt Lavinia’s judgments — which I was shocked to discover — was that my mother had lowered her station in life by marrying my father.

Father was a man of middle age and modest height. Quite portly, he had a round, smooth, shaved face and fair hair brushed with care. His soft pink hands — somewhat ink stained — were what you would expect of someone who wielded pen, not pickax. At home or at work, he attired himself in common gentleman’s fashion — English frock coat, vest, knotted neck cloth, tan pants, and tall black silk hat.

He worked as an accountant for Pratt and Willinghast, a respectable trading business, which had its offices on Peck Street in the middle of Providence. Significantly, it was a position secured for him by Aunt Lavinia’s husband, a fact which she did not let Father (or Mother) forget.

Still, after ten years of service, Father received a silver pocket watch in recognition of his good work. He liked to bring it out at regular intervals so as to suggest that he was a busy man. In fact, I came to understand it was displayed mostly to show Aunt Lavinia that he was worthy. But then, as I came to realize, Father’s highest ambition was to become acceptable to Aunt Lavinia, and he chose to do so by agreeing to all her advice and judgments.

As for my mother, she had a kind hearted, loving nature and looked after us all, trying her best to shield us from her sister’s dictates. By way of personal occupation, other than supervising her children’s upbringing and managing the household, she had her reading (popular romances such as ­ The Betrothed) and needlework to do. Yet while Mother was a quiet soul, sometimes, when I watched her sewing, it seemed as if she were frustrated with her life and used her needle to pierce the fabric of her world.

Exasperated by my parents’ constant deference to Aunt Lavinia, it was upon my younger brother, Jacob, that I bestowed my deepest affections. More than anyone else, he was willing to listen to my endless prattle. Most of all, he didn’t criticize me. We were as close as kin can be, and I enjoyed his company greatly.

Jacob — four years younger than I — had a pleasing, apple-cheeked sweetness. An earnest, serious, almost solemn boy, he was not given to mischief. When he played with his school friends, he did so quietly, without much zest.

He was fond of music and enjoyed whistling the popular songs of the day. ­ That said, his whistling told me that he was troubled. Whereas Jacob considered me hot-brained, he fretted far too much, and worry made him agitated.

Jacob appeared to be the least bothered by how much our lives were governed by my aunt. But then it was Jacob of whom Aunt Lavinia most approved. She, who had no children of her own, once said, “Jacob is a perfect child. He is quiet and does what he is told. We should all encourage Victoria to be more like her brother.”

Once she informed me, “You should know, Victoria, that someday Jacob will be the head of the family and you will need to defer to him.”

Young though I was, I was much distressed and replied, “Jacob shall have his life. I shall have mine.”

To which Aunt Lavinia scolded, “Nonsense. A girl’s life should be solely dedicated to taking care of others.”

I’m sure that made me pout-mouthed.

Because I resisted my aunt’s dictates, she was particularly harsh on me, finding me too independent, too bold, and far too free with my opinions. But the truth is, there were few aspects of my life which did not come under her firm declarations.

“Victoria should dress this way.” That meant, for example, that I must never go outside without gloves and bonnet.

“Victoria should have proper acquaintances.” ­ This meant that the Misses Biggs were not suitable friends whereas the suitable friends whereas the Misses Colchester were. I was never told the reasons.

“Victoria should be taking dancing lessons from Mrs. Coldbrett’s Academy of Dancery.”

I attended weekly.

And: “To call Victoria Tory is vulgar.” Once — I was no more than ten — she told me, “Unless you change your opinionated ways, you will not find a suitable man willing to marry you.”

My retort was “I intend to remain self-governing.” When Jacob turned six (I was ten), he began to attend a school selected by my aunt: the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction, in Providence. She further proclaimed that it was sufficient for a girl to be educated at home, save Sunday church school. My parents did as she advised. I did not go to school.

Whereas Jacob went to school tamely, I objected to not going and did so strongly. Why, I argued, should I not get an education? Was I not the eldest child? Was I not quick-witted and eager?

Father consulted his pocket watch and said, “We shall do what Aunt Lavinia advises.”

While I did not go to school, my mother sympathized with me. She took it upon herself to teach me to read and write (as, she told me, her mother had taught her).

Additionally, I secretly persuaded Jacob to share all his school lessons with me. ­ at allowed me to be educated on my own — furtively. ­ The truth is, I far surpassed him.

I was therefore soon reading a great deal. Alas, the books in our home were too few, too limited. Having a desire for more knowledge, I took such small monies as I had saved (birthday and Christmas gifts) and, telling no one, walked downhill to the Providence Athenaeum, the city’s fine library. But when I placed my sparse coins on the counter and informed the white-haired gentleman secretary that I wished to purchase a member ship, he told me I had not nearly enough.

Disappointment must have clouded my face. ­

The secretary considered me with a kindly smile, paused a long moment, and then leaned down and whispered, “Since you are so young and eager, I shall give you a free subscription. “But,” he added, finger to his lips, “you must not tell anyone.”

I went from rejection to rapture.

I borrowed books and hid them in my private room. At night, while the whole house slept, I read voraciously by candle light and learned that stealthy reading is absolutely sublime. Reading became my other world. I discovered and consumed volumes by Mr. Poe, Mr. Dickens, and Miss Austen. Did I understand them all? Of course not. But then people do not generally grasp the true value of reading: It is not to learn about others. It is to learn about oneself. ­

Thus it was that I came upon the recently published autobiography of Jane Eyre. ­ That book transformed my life.


Copyright © 2020 by Avi Wortis Inc.