Title: Newsgirl
Author: Liza Ketchum
ISBN: 978067001193
Pages: 327 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, c2009.

“You have a V instead of an N,” Amelia said, pointing to the misspelled word.
The man picked up his spectacles and peered over her shoulder. “Right you are.” He pulled out a drawer full of bigger letters and picked one from the middle. “Here’s the culprit–a V in with the Ns. Too bad you’re a girl; I could offer you a job.” He closed the drawer. “Where did you want to go?”
What was wrong with being a girl? Ameila didn’t want to know. Instead, she turned the page and stared at a headline: A LETTER FROM CHAGRES. “We were in Chagres,” she said. “We crossed the Isthmus, just like this man. Our ship crashed on the rocks near Acapulco but we all survived.” She glanced at him. “If I wrote a letter about it, would you print mine, too?”
The man gave her a look that mad her feel as small as the terrier. “Dear child,” he said, “I’m sure you had your own adventure, but we can’t publish stories by little girls. And how would we know you were telling the truth?”
He said “little girls” as if she were like the vermin roaming the streets. “I don’t lie,” Amelia said. (36-37)

Amelia has finally landed with her mother and her mother’s friend in California during the Gold Rush. Her mother hopes to establish a dress shop, while Amelia hopes to escape the school yard teasing about her lack of a father. Instead, she quickly realizes that a town full of men doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities. She feels hopeless as she watches her mother runs out of money, but Amelia sees an opportunity to earn money by selling papers in the streets. The other newsboys refuse to accept a girl into their gang, so she disguises herself as a boy to join the ranks. A freak balloon accident however sends Amelia and another young boy catapulting into the air. Will they ever be able to land, and when they do, will Amelia’s secret be discovered?

I kind of had flashbacks to the plot of Shakespeare’s play Taming of the Shrew with this book. The writing style isn’t anything like Shakespeare, and the plot isn’t anything remotely close, except for the fact that Amelia, like Viola, lands in an unfamiliar land and copes with her surroundings by dressing as a man. Ketchum does an excellent job forshadowing, building suspense and subtling elluding to future events. By the end of the book she has gained admiration and acceptance, and she feels more comfortable with her new identity. The plot has a lot of action, between the runaway balloon, the fights with the newsboys, mining for gold, and a historic fire sweeping through the city.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the plot, but I feel that a homosexual relationship is elluded to in the story, as Amelia’s mother explains that she didn’t love her father “enough to be his wife.” and then she “met dear Estelle, whom I do love” (263-264). I’d love to talk with the author about this, and her reasoning behind her choice. I’m not against the choice, I just feel like it was a unique one to make. With such a revolutionary mother, is it any wonder that she raised such a free-spirited daughter. A recommended read.

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