Emma, who is “almost eleven” is more than excited about her new adventure. Along with her mother, Doctor Burton and a chambermaid named Kathleen, she will be taking a steamboat along the Missouri River to meet up with her father. She has it all planned out. She will bring her pony “Twist” and she will get to ride him along side her father as they travel west (to California) in search of gold.
Things don’t go exactly as planned however, and Emma, who is a bit spoiled and selfish has some important lessons to learn.
Her challenges are many:
- Her mother is sick and bed-ridden most of the trip and on occasion people slip about her condition, causing concern. It seems several people know more about her mother’s health than she does.
- Her pony is stored below the deck where she is forbidden to go, and she can’t trust anyone else to care for him. She has to figure out a way to see him.
- Doctor Burton who is escorting them on the Sally May, assigns eyes and ears to keep up with her so he can gamble. How will she be able to check on Twist?
- Emma meets an immigrant stowaway that challenges her thoughts on servants, and foreigners, and friendship.
The last two chapters contain the climax of the story – Emma must react to the explosion on the steamboat, her mother’s condition and the come to terms with some lessons learned.
There is a section following the story called More on Life On The River In The 1880’s. It contains additional information about that time period, steamboats and other aspects of daily life. There is also a resources list for those interested in a deeper study.
Note: This book touches on slavery, servants, bigotry, and social classes, in addition to the tragedy of the steamboat explosion.