________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006


Jo’s Journey. (Orca Young Readers).
Nikki Tate.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
122 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-55143-536-5.

Subject Headings:
Sex role-Juvenile fiction.
Voyages and travels-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Mary Thomas. 

**½ /4 


By mid-morning on the fifth day out of Lilloet we found ourselves strung out along yet another stretch of precarious trail, scarcely wider than my shoulders. The path snaked along the sheer face of a mountain in a series of dizzying switchbacks. Like the others with a horse to lead, I was forced to walk ahead of Sassafras. "Don't look down, Bart." My words were meant more to reassure myself than to protect Bart. I closed my eyes, tightened my grip on the lead rope, and drew a deep breath before I continued. Sassafras took one short step and then another. His hooves slipped a little each time he set his foot down on the gravel and loose rock. 

My own back ached from the load I carried, but that ceased to matter when, without warning, the edge of the trail crumbled, sending a shower of rocks and pebbles tumbling down the steep cliff below me. Startled, I hopped to the side, expecting Sassafras to do the same. But the path edge had given way in a place already so narrow that the widest part of the horse's load bumped the cliff on our left. As Sassafras put out a foot to steady himself he found only air beneath him. 

     When we last saw Jo, she was fresh from her triumph as a Pony Express rider who has managed to foil a robbery and collect a reward big enough that she can afford the coach fare to California. This is lucky for her, since it is just when the telegraph is about to make the Express and its riders redundant. So now she and Bart, another young rider, are working in a livery stable in San Francisco. A funny place for a girl, you say? You bet! But Jo has been pretending to be a boy ever since she ran away from the orphanage where her brothers placed her when her mother died in child birth, and so far her body has not betrayed her. Even Bart has no suspicions. Life in San Francisco is pretty boring, however, and Jo yearns to take off for the gold fields with most of the rest of the floating male population of the city, perhaps to make her fortune, and perhaps to find her brothers who had gone that way before her as well. Bart is reluctantly persuaded to come with her, and thus begins their journey by ship up the coast to Fort Victoria, by boat to New Westminster, and then by good old shank's mare from there to their destination. They have the usual mixture of good and bad luck--good luck to be hired by a man to help carry his stuff to the gold fields, bad in that he was a cruel and lazy so-and-so; good that Bart manages to gamble a few pennies into five dollars, bad that the losers were then on his tail; and so on, in a pattern that continues to the final pages when the good luck manages to top the bad. Just.  

     On the whole, this is a straightforward adventure story--Jo and Bart against the world--and it does a good job of portraying the difficulties involved in the trek to the gold fields, including the discouragement of meeting men who have given up and are full of tales of the hardships ahead. Everything from the weather to the weight of the packs they carry is described in graphic detail. The extra dimension to the novel is found in Jo's increasing difficulty with her role as a boy. Not being able to bathe with the others in the hot springs along the trail, not being able to cry over a horse killed falling over a cliff; not being able to think about wearing pretty clothes and running a brush through long hair--all of these things start to build up to a real problem for her. Worst, however, is Jo's fear that, if Bart should find out that she is a girl, it will put their friendship in jeopardy. The working out of this dilemma gives much of the interest in what is otherwise a descriptive list of hardships encountered and either endured or overcome.  

     Jo's character develops quite satisfactorily in the course of this book. The other characters have less depth and could have used more development to make the twists of the plot more plausible. It remains a satisfactory read, however, and certainly ends with the possibility of a third book to come in the series.  


Mary Thomas has returned to her job in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, having been on leave in Oxford, Eng., for the past year.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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