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Roundup Online Magazine: Books in Review
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Based on an actual event that took place in California in the 1850s, this book combines historical research with a compelling story of a boy determined to succeed in life. Joseph Ready Gates spends every day finding ways to bring money home to help out his family in Gold Rush San Francisco. A small-scale entrepreneur, Ready sells newspapers, oranges, and other commodities to residents and tourists, runs errands, and even finds profit in melting down tin cans for their solder. At age fourteen, he dreams of going with his father to the gold fields and striking it rich. When his father is severely injured at work, Ready is challenged to try even harder to make ends meet.

Although intended for young readers, this book will appeal to anyone interested in a fast-paced and exciting story with a sympathetic hero. Ready remains optimistic in the face of adversity, befriends a girl stranded in San Francisco and helps her search for her missing brother, and meets actress Lola Montez. In a skillful blend of history and fiction, Kupcha recounts Ready's inadvertent ride on a hot-air balloon on July 4, 1853, a perilous journey that carried him from Oakland almost to Sacramento. The balloon ride took Ready aloft for two hours; readers will share this experience vicariously but with perhaps a little less alarm than the Balloon Boy of San Francisco.

Review by Abe Hoffmann