• Firehorse
  • Firehorse


4.4 35
by Diane Lee Wilson

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Fifteen-year-old Rachel is furious and lonely when her father moves the family to Boston in 1872—especially since she had to sell her beloved horse. But in Boston she finds the Governor’s Girl, an injured firehorse, and begins caring for her and thinking about becoming a veterinarian. Then an outbreak of fires causes Rachel to question the ethics of her

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Fifteen-year-old Rachel is furious and lonely when her father moves the family to Boston in 1872—especially since she had to sell her beloved horse. But in Boston she finds the Governor’s Girl, an injured firehorse, and begins caring for her and thinking about becoming a veterinarian. Then an outbreak of fires causes Rachel to question the ethics of her journalist father, and when the horses who pull the fire engines fall ill, the danger escalates. In a dramatic climax, the Great Boston Fire of 1872 is brought to life with cinematic vividness, and Rachel proves her grit and determination to make something of herself.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jeanne K. Pettenati J.D.
Strong willed Rachel is a smart and competent young woman in a world conspiring to keep her down. Women do not go to veterinary school, become veterinarians or do much else besides cooking, cleaning and raising children. Rachel's father in particular holds these views and his relationship with his daughter is icy at best. Rachel is not going to give up her hopes and dreams quite so easily, though. She is consumed with horses the way other girls her age are consumed with fashion and decorating. Rachel has a natural way with horses that cannot be denied. This is apparent to her grandmother, an ally and staunch supporter. However, a young Boston veterinarian is also impressed with her talents when he observes her caring for a very sick horse. The backdrop for this very engaging and well-written story is Boston in the 1870s. During that decade, a huge epidemic of distemper struck thousands of horses across the country, leaving many firefighting horses sick or dead. A suspected arsonist is setting fires in the city, and, with so many horses sick, Boston residents are left vulnerable as fires destroy their town. Rachel is modeled on a fourteen-year-old girl who lived in Boston in 1872, and whose diary the author read in researching this historical fiction book. Well-drawn characters, a passionate protagonist, strong writing and an excellent plot make this book one not to be missed. Reviewer: Jeanne K. Pettenati, J.D.
Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
Rachel loves horses, and is heartbroken when she must leave behind her horse when her father, a newspaper editor, decides to move his family to Boston. But when James, her brother, gets the opportunity to work as an apprentice fireman, Rachel finds out about a "firehorse" named Governor's Girl who has been seriously burned in a fire that took a number of other horses' lives. Because of her obvious empathy for the horse, she is given the opportunity to take care of the Girl in a stable behind her new home. As she works with Governor's Girl and the young veterinary, Mr. Stead, who is in charge of the Girl's recovery, Rachel realizes that she, too, would like to be a veterinary. But Rachel faces a great deal of opposition from her father, and, she thinks, her mother. However, this is also a story about understanding one's parents, and as Rachel gets a greater sense of who her mother is, she also gains the certainty that she can be whatever she wants. This book works on many levels; it is clearly a very strong example of historical fiction, but it is also an excellent book for female readers, who will certainly gain a greater appreciation of how the opportunities they take for granted today originated.
VOYA - Rebecca Moore
"I [get] my oxygen from horses," declares fifteen-year-old Rachel, who wants nothing more from life than the freedom to gallop. But it is 1872, and freedom is not an option for girls, as Rachel learns when her domineering father sells her horse and moves the family to Boston. Rachel, however, was not made to submit. When a local firehorse is severely burned, Rachel takes her in and fights considerable odds to nurse her back to health. As she tends the mare and determines to become a veterinarian, troubles loom around her: A spate of fires threatens the city, her newspaperman father writes suspiciously incendiary articles about ill-equipped fire brigades, and thousands of Boston's horses succumb to a distemper outbreak. Everything comes to a head when the biggest fire of all breaks out, and Rachel and the firehorse finally get the chance to prove themselves. Set in the world of the Great Boston Fire, this novel is meticulously researched and effortlessly written. The multilayered characters grow with the story, and Rachel's relationship with her mother is particularly poignant, as each discovers unsuspected depths and strengths in the other. In addition, Rachel's blunt and pithy observations-"It was a plan to change me-to tie me to a tomato stake . . . and make me grow a certain way"-will resonate with readers. Despite being about yet another rebellious, corset-loathing nineteenth-century girl, the book rises above the usual fare and will appeal to girls who like action, strong heroines, and horse stories. An afterword gives historical details.
School Library Journal

Gr 5–8
In 1872, 15-year-old Rachel leaves Illinois and her beloved pony for Boston, where her father has taken a newspaper job. The city is beset with fires, and there are rumors that they are the work of an arsonist. When Rachel accompanies her older brother to the local fire station, she meets The Governor's Girl, a fire-station horse that has been severely burned. She hears the fire captain and veterinarian discussing putting the horse down and saves her, finding new independence and adventure along the way. The author conveys the tenor of the times, especially the severe restrictions facing women, the hazards of living in cities, and the difficult and sometimes tragic lives of city horses. Rachel is a strong-willed, kindhearted heroine. She is resilient in the face of her father's continuous opposition to her dream of becoming a veterinarian. The mystery of the fires and the drama surrounding the life-and-death struggle of The Governor's Girl will keep readers hooked until the end.
—Carol ScheneCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


I've always been running, it seems. Or galloping. Yes, that's it: galloping! It's not very ladylike and it drives Mother to distraction — not to mention what it does to Father. But I believe it's a way of drinking every last drop out of the glass life offers you.

In Wesleydale, my hometown in Illinois, my horse Peaches and I tore around the countryside like a pair of wildlings. Saturdays, especially, we'd ride out early, make our usual stops, and be waiting in the oak grove past the Murdock farm by mid-morning. When the nine thirty train whistled in the distance, the townspeople thought it was announcing its approach. But I knew otherwise. I knew it was calling me. And the challenge it presented kindled a fire in me as hot as the locomotive's furnace.

One Saturday morning — June 15, 1872, to be exact — was already hot and muggy, and my skirt was bunching around my knees. The sidesaddle would have kept it cleaner, but who can run a race with one leg tied up high? Or while wearing a corset, for that matter? I'd left both behind.

Eagerly I gathered the reins up tight, my heart chattering with the clickety-clack of the onrushing train. I plaited my fingers through Peaches' mane, and she began dancing. Then, for mind-shatteringly long seconds, we waited. When the train was just around the bend, I eased Peaches onto the road and huddled down, watching over my shoulder. The instant the locomotive came into view, I thrust my arms forward and Peaches bolted.

Belly to the ground, she shot out of the oak grove and raced alongside the railroad tracks. The locomotive charged up behind us. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the engineer lean out the window. He tried to look grim, but I knew he was fighting a smile. Two short whistle blasts nearly split my ears and then the locomotive was right up next to us!

I crouched so close over Peaches' neck that her mane whipped my cheek. When I drummed my bare heels against her sides, she doubled her speed. The pebbled dirt road melted into a blur. My heart pounded through my skin.

Again the locomotive rumbled at our flanks. It pulled up beside us, then past us, and the engineer, tasting triumph, leaned out the window and waved. I grabbed a hank of mane with one hand and shook the reins at Peaches with the other. I hollered like a heathen. And, bless her heart, she pulled even. We were almost there! For breathless moments we ran side by side: the black machine and the red mare. The panting and the chugging and the pounding swallowed up my world and spit me out anew, free as a winged bird.

The finish line was the brick tunnel near the Evans Dairy, where Jericho Road dipped, curved sharply, and passed beneath the tracks. Taking the turn at such speed was pure danger, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Seeing it ahead, I clutched Peaches' mane with both hands, centered myself on her bare back, and put my trust in her. She pricked her ears and hunched lower, then suddenly scrambled out of rhythm. Bits of gravel flew into the air as she lost her footing, and for one sickeningly empty beat we were falling. The ground rushed up at us. But somehow she planted a foot and stopped it, heaving us forward in the same instant. And we managed to dash into the dark tunnel just as the locomotive thundered over it.

The whistle sounded once as we shot out the other side, a shrill good-bye. I thought I heard the engineer's laugh carried on its pitch. Before the entire train passed, I spun Peaches around and dived back into the tunnel. Reining her to a standstill, I savored the deliciously frightening roar directly over our heads. The vibrations shook our very bones. And then the train was gone and I was left smiling.

Satisfied, we headed for home. Mundane chores were waiting: The same old weeds, it seemed, were always sprouting up just to be dug up; the same old hens had to be nudged aside to gather the same old eggs. A chemise that never seemed to get properly mended required yet more stitches. The civilized world was impatient to fasten its buttons around us. But we still had a little time. We weren't captured yet. Peaches nodded contentedly as she shuffled, trailing little clouds of dust with each hoof fall. I swung my legs freely and hummed a favorite hymn.

Galloping, I know for a fact, washes you cleaner than any scrubbing. It sends air rushing into your darkest corners and chases the cobwebs out. Every Saturday after our race I felt as clean as a swept porch. Light and happy. And hungry. As usual, I'd slipped out to the barn without any breakfast, and my stomach was noisily reminding me. So when I looked up to find us passing Mr. Jude's apple orchard, I have to confess I was sorely tempted. A new rail fence ran along the side of it, the splintery boards gleaming a pinkish yellow in the sunlight. It was four feet high if it was an inch, and put there, I was certain, simply to make those apples look all the sweeter. My mouth watered.

I knew that orchard. A few months before we'd wandered into it from another direction, and Mr. Jude had chased us out with his dogs. Then he'd gone straight down and told Father about it, adding that Peaches and I had trampled his newly tilled garden, which was a lie. He'd accused me of something else, too, something that I still didn't quite understand.

From my bedroom over the porch, I'd tried to hear what they were saying, but I couldn't make out the words. The front door slamming was plain enough, though. I'd peeked out my window to see Mr. Jude stalking down the drive. Inside, I heard Father's clipped and carefully measured voice, the one he used when explaining his wishes to little children or the elderly. Like a muffled echo, it was followed by Mother's even footsteps skimming the stairs. Father was sending her.

It wasn't the first time she'd served as his messenger. While Father could talk to me rationally about the weather, or the condition of the surrounding corn crop, or sometimes — sometimes — about the columns he wrote for his newspaper, he couldn't and wouldn't discuss my many instances of "unbridled behavior," as I once heard him describe it to Mother. I was her daughter then. That was her job. Funny thing was, I was nothing like my mother.

She came into my room and began darting about, tidying this and smoothing that. She moved as lightly and noiselessly as a butterfly. "Next Saturday morning," she said, "let's invite Mary Grace over and we'll bake up some gingersnaps. Or we could look through flower catalogs; I've just received a new one." I murmured something evasive and left my bed to straddle the chair in front of my dressing table. Fingering its chipped green paint, I waited for her to tell me what she'd really come to say.

She fluttered some more. Then, reaching for the brush, she gave out a little sigh and motioned me to turn around. With her first stroke, the brush caught in my windblown hair and our eyes caught in the mirror. One pair was the color of faded hyacinths, the other was as green as the fields and unnaturally defiant. Two more dissimilar faces you could not have found, yet somehow we'd been planted in the same family.

She petted my shoulder. I knew it was coming: her message. "Your Father thinks, Rachel dear," she said, "that perhaps it's time you give up your horse?"

"No!" I jumped up and shouted the word so vehemently that she actually blanched a shade paler, which I instantly felt bad about. After all, she was merely the messenger.

She reached the brush toward my hair. I took a step back, shaking my head.

"Well, if you'd promise to use the sidesaddle," she cajoled, "maybe your father would consider letting . . . and if you'd promise to wear shoes and gloves, too. Why, just look at what those leather reins are doing to your hands." She lifted them by their stained fingertips and made a face. "Honestly, Rachel, you're fifteen years old. Can't you please ride like a lady," she begged, "because . . . well, there's really no other way to put it: The way you're tearing around — astride," she whispered the word dramatically, "with your limbs showing — well, people are calling it indecent."


That plopped me back down on the chair. I'd always thought that indecent was the way Mrs. Winnow flirted with our minister, whose wife was deathly ill but not yet passed. Or the way two of our church elders raised their hands and swore not to let alcohol pass their lips, yet were happy to pass the cider jug at the fall plowing match. I thought indecent was leaving a dog tied to a tree day in and day out, for its whole miserable life. But just like that, she threw me into the same sinful category. She sewed a scarlet letter onto me. She and Father and Mr. Jude. When all I'd done was gallop.

That had been three months ago, but the word still rang in my ears: indecent. So as I was sitting there on Peaches with my stomach rumbling, I got to thinking about eating an apple — just one — to spite Mr. Jude and his lies.

That's when I heard them coming: the boys. Farther on past the orchard, I saw them, four abreast. Riding into town and to their summer work at the granary and the livery and the slaughterhouse. Riding with their hard boots and their harsh words and their heavy hands. We'd met before.

The road was narrow along this stretch and fenced on both sides. I had no choice if I wanted to avoid them. Angling Peaches toward the orchard gate, which was slightly lower than its fence and situated between us and the approaching boys, I pressed my heels into her sides. She understood at once. With her ears pointed toward the top rail, she picked up a canter. I felt her hindquarters gather beneath me and, with each powerful stride, her withers lifted higher. The boys hooted with glee, thinking we were mounting a foolhardy charge at them. I gritted my teeth and focused on the hurdle ahead. At the critical moment, when there was only freedom or crashing failure, Peaches left the ground and we were flying. For one breathless instant the earth couldn't hold us.

As we swooped down inside, the boys came galloping up to the gate to hurl some jeers over it. I ignored them, as I always had. They had nothing I wanted or needed.

Peaches kept cantering smoothly between the tidy rows. I stroked her neck with gratitude. The coarse voices behind us faded, then fragmented in a sudden flurry of hoofbeats. And we were left alone.

Pulling Peaches to a walk, I let myself fall under the orchard's spell. It was so quiet among the trees — a private, sun-dappled world that locked out the injustices of everyday life. A low humming lulled us as we ambled along. The ground gently sank and swelled, and I could swear I heard it breathing. Lacy white flowers arced in abundance, their honeyed fragrance seeming to grow sweeter in the warming sun. I reined Peaches down a different row, and then another and another, just wandering. My mouth watered at the thousands of hard, glossy green orbs, but the apples weren't ripe yet and there was no use in biting into even one.

After a time, we found ourselves back at the gate. No need to risk our necks again, so I slid off and led Peaches through, then climbed onto the fence and onto her back. The sun was even higher in the sky, and I knew the chickens wouldn't be the only ones squawking at home.

Sweat had glued my dress to my skin by then, and it was all I could do to keep from wading into the shallows of the Gilead River for a quick dip. The waters sparkled invitation, but I kept Peaches pointed straight and we clip-clopped across the planked bridge.

Turning onto Bell Road, we hurried into a trot to get past the Stokeses' farm. Not only because we were late, but because I couldn't bear to look at their slatted barn with its string of orange fox pelts nailed in cruciform beneath the eaves. It seemed there was always a price to pay for crossing someone's boundaries. Always a price. But what place did death have on a morning as glorious as this?

Copyright ©2006 by Diane Lee Wilson

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Firehorse 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
happy93 More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've ever read! I can't put it down and when i have to i'm edging to get back to it. The book is sitting right next to me now! You have to read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book for a book report and finished it in one night! diane lee wilson catches you at the beginnning and you get so absorbed into the life of Rachel. I can so relate to Rachel and how she feels about horses and i know what it's like to have a horse like the Governor's Girl. wilson really hit me hard about being where you belong too. she inspired me to do what i want to do, not what other people say i should do. such a great book!!!!!!!
Kim Lockard More than 1 year ago
I LOVED IT!!!!!!!!
michaelmurdoch More than 1 year ago
I think it was very sad when horses were dying in the fire. I felt so sad when the horses were in so much pain. I recommend this book to all kids! Sara
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It sounds soooo good. I would like it except i hate romance like kissing in books unless there married or engaged. Book you should read: the wide awake princess by E. D. Baker. Would you recomend this book for a almost 12 year old? Replie to IceFawn.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has one kissing scence at the very end, but other than that this is an awesome book! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite book! I picked this book up at a fair for only $2.50 and it was the best money I ever spent! The story of Rachel is very inspirational and I'd suggest it for any middle/high schooler. I'd give this 7 stars if I could.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so good!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a great book about a girl, Rachel, whis determined to become a vetrinary. She takes care of a well nown fire horse that was injured. Rachel studies by herself and the vetrinary, Mr. Stead, assistes her with her studies to become a vetrinary. Great book about confidence and determination.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books. There is action all the way through, though a small portion of the middle drags a little when she is caring for the horse. I love horses and this is my favorite horse book of all time. If you love horses you will love this as i did! Enjoy! And yes, this WOULD make excellnt movie.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book but i got it for $2.50 on sale and it is only $6.99 for a regular book on sale
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I luv this book! The end is so romantic it makes u almost want 2 cry. I hope they make a movie of this soon!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I can really relate to Rachel, and I think she is a really well-rounded charachter. To anyone who is not sure about this book, I say yes. Buy it. If you like good literature, you will probably like this story a lot.
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Avronea_Vantara More than 1 year ago
This book was full of moments that kept you guessing. It shows a lot the way men still thought women shouldn't be in certain job areas. I highly recommend this book to any animal lover or future veterinarians.
CCLover13 More than 1 year ago
i love diane wilson's book so much that i can't put it down when i start reading it again and again. there are so many books i've read and this is one of my favorites. i hope you love this book as much as much as i do. read it and tell me how you like it. here are some more horse books for you to read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great i read it for a book report and ended up reading it in two days. You just get caught up in the story! I hope you read this book since it is fantastic!