Sunday, July 8, 2012

Librarian's Pick of the Week: Hard Gold

Title: Hard Gold
Author: Avi
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2008
Age: 12+

Synopsis:  Early Whitcomb's family needs a miracle. Their Iowa farm has been in the family for generations, but a long drought has withered their savings and left them in debt. Meanwhile, the great Chicago and Northwestern Railroad wants their land, and if the Whitcombs can't pay their loans, the local banker, Judge Fuslin, will foreclose and sell the farm as his own. Early's uncle (though he's more like a brother), Jesse, thinks he has the solution: to head West and dig for gold. Fueled by reports of prospectors striking it rich in the Rocky Mountains, Jesse can't think about anything but gold, and his determination to get to the western territories grows stronger by the day. Early is wild to go with him, as much for the adventure as for the gold. But the journey costs money--more than the boys can afford--and when Jesse flees during the night, after being accused of a robbery, Early doesn't know what to believe. Then Jesse sends an electrifying message--that he has found gold, but his life is in danger--and Early knows he must do whatever it takes to find him, even if it means running away and joining a wagon train with a strange family. The journey is dangerous and full of hardships, and the closer the travelers get to their destination, the more ruined lives they encounter--lives consumed by the hunt for gold. Then to his horror, Early learns that Jesse has been accused of another, much bigger crime and has fled to a secret place in the mountains. Somehow, Early must get to him without leading Jesse's pursuers right to his door. And even if he succeeds, Early will still have to make the hardest choice of his life.

Review: The I Witness series strives to make history more appealing by presenting fiction decked out with an array of nonfiction trappings: maps, diagrams, period photographs, and a multitude of paintings. This entry opens with a classic western setup: an unscrupulous banker tries to force the Whitcomb family off their farm, thus making way for the railroad snaking its way across the country. Young Early and his uncle Jesse hear rumors of a gold strike out in the Rocky Mountains, and see an angle to save the family farm. Jesse takes off without warning and sends word back that he's struck it rich but is being threatened by thieves. Determined to help him, Early hits the trail with a migrating family and discovers how gold fever can change even the best of men. The beginning and end of the story provide good excitement, but the middle section, the dull Nebraska crossing, is stretched a bit too thin. Still, the detailed, authentic touches of history and adventure are a good combination for readers who might resist straight nonfiction. - Booklist

If you're intrigued, don't forget to check our library's catalog for this book!


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