Monday, February 1, 2010


Title: Newsgirl

Author: Liza Ketchum

Publisher: Viking

Copyright Date: 2009

Print Date: September 2009

ISBN: 9780670011193

Pages: 317 + an Author's Note regarding the story's historical accuracy

Book Description (from dust jacket):

AMELIA'S FAMILY has just arrived in San Fransisco in 1851, hoping for a new life in this gold rush town. But they are nearly pennilless. How will they survive? Amelia discovers that newsboys can make a fortune selling East Coast newspapers. So in spite of their warning — "No girls in our gang!" — she cuts her hair and dresses herself as a boy.

At first, Amelia's disguise gives her an exciting new freedom. She can hawk newspapers, explore the city, even dream of writing her own news stories. Then an unexpected and harrowing balloon flight drops Amelia in the gold fields. Suddenly facing more adventure than she can ever imagined, Amelia resolves that if she makes it back to her family, she'll find a way to make a living as a newsgirl.

Weaving in details of authentic nighteenth-century California, Liza Ketchum has written a fascinating story of San Fransisco at the height of its rough-and-tumble days.


I came across this book while browsing at the local library. It sounded interesting, so I picked it up. As a MG/YA book (the dust jacket says 10+, BTW), it was a light, quick read. It still managed to touch on a number of issues though.

There are many gender issues on a number of levels. Amelia's mother is unwed, Amelia has never known her father, and she has suffered being called names and knowing looks. Nothing is said outright, but the story seems to indicate that Amelia's mother and their family friend Estelle may be romantic partners as well as business partners. And then there is the outright standing of women during the time — despite the relative freedoms of women in California compared to back East. Women can own property, divorce, etc. But they can't vote and still don't have nearly as much standing — as can be seen in Amelia's adventures. She gets discomforting looks (and draws too much attention) simply by dressing as a girl, has trouble being accepted into the local newspaper boy gang (the best source of income), and is told by the owner of a local newspaper that stories told by girls can't be trusted as fact.

At several points racial issues — centering around the Chinese man Mr. Wong — crop up. He is ridiculed (name calling), beaten, etc.

Parts of the story were interesting. Certainly the historic background (especially after reading the author's note and seeing how mcuh was real) was interesting. Other parts were a bit much. Amelia jumped from one adventure to another in such rapid was a little unbelievable.

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