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KLIATTThe gold rush is on, and Will, age 18, sets out from Philadelphia to California via the dangerous jungle route through the Isthmus of Panama, braving heat and cholera. He's seeking a young man named Ezra, who loved and then abandoned a good friend of Will's, but soon this purpose fades in importance as Will and his friend Ben get caught up in their own adventures. Ben meets a comely actress in San Francisco, while Will finds work driving a team of horses up to the gold fields, and meets Florence, a spirited and appealing girl. Will isn't the only one searching for Ezra, it turns out; several menacing men are hunting him down too, and Will finds himself in danger in the wilds of the Wild West. Cadnum, author of many other YA novels (e.g., Ship of Fire and The Book of the Lion), does his usual excellent job integrating historical research into an exciting story, and this would make an interesting supplement to a study of the gold rush era. We never get to know Ezra or Elizabeth, however, and I'm not quite sure why Cadnum needed these characters to kick off the plot—the danger of the trip and Will's adventures would have sufficed. The novel ends a bit abruptly, too, but readers will enjoy the ride. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Penguin Putnam, Viking, 224p., Ages 12 to 18.