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.
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.
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About the Author
Avi is part of a family of writers extending back into the nineteenth century. Born in 1937 and raised in New York City, Avi was educated in local schools before going to the Midwest and then back to NYC to complete his education. He started out as a playwright while working for many years as a librarian. He began writing books for young people when the first of his kids came along.
His first book was published in 1970. Since then he has published more than seventy books and won many awards, including the Newbery Medal, two Newbery Honors, two Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, a Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and many children’s choice awards. Avi frequently travels to schools around the country to talk to his readers.
Among his most popular books are Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing But the Truth, the Poppy books, Midnight Magic, and The Fighting Ground. His other books with Candlewick Press include What Do Fish Have to Do with Anything? and The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers. Avi lives in Clark, Colorado, with his wife.
Date of Birth:December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964
Read an Excerpt
Have you ever been struck by lightning?
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 kindhearted, 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, applecheeked 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.”