CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 5. . . .October 4, 2013
Taking the Reins is set in British Columbia in the 1860s. Fourteen-year-old Katherine has come to BC with her father, mother, sister and brother from England where her father had run a dry goods store. However, his dream was to be a landowner, something which was not possible in England, and so he brought his family to settle in the wilderness of BC. Katherine’s sister died of Panama fever, her father was injured in a bear attack, and George, her older brother, left home to find gold in the Caribou. Katherine, disguised as a boy and riding her horse, Nugget, bravely sets off to find George and bring him home to help the family.
Emma, 13, and her mother were left in absolute poverty in England when her father went chasing the promise of gold. When her mother died, Emma was put into a workhouse. Eventually, she was shipped off to Canada on a bride ship to be offered as a wife to one of the gold rush men.
The two girls meet when Katherine has to sell her prized possession, her horse, Nugget, in order for her family to survive the winter. Emma’s father, (who has “found” her after seeing the opal ring she was wearing), buys Nugget for Emma, thinking it would be a wonderful gift for his daughter.
Emma is terrified of horses but she must learn to ride as her father is looking for a farm and they need to ride out into the wilderness to reach it. Katherine jumps at the chance to ride Nugget again and offers to teach her.
Emma believes Katherine is from a wealthy family and has known no hardship. Katherine believes Emma to be wealthy as she sports an opal ring and lives with the Governor and his wife. The truth is eventually revealed, and the two girls slowly build up a bond of trust and friendship as Katherine teaches Emma to ride while sharing the stories of their hardships and dealing with the challenges of each day.
All ends well as Emma’s father buys Katherine’s family’s farm. Katherine’s family buys a store in town, and the two girls will live close enough to continue their friendship.
This book opens the door for wonderful discussions not only about the roles of girls/women in the 19th century, the gold rush and hardships of immigrants in a new land, but also discussions of courage, friendship and trust. Although the plot moves very quickly towards a happy ending for all, the main characters are believable and historically possible.
Iris Casey is a retired Peel (ON) Board teacher.
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