________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 5. . . .October 4, 2013


Taking the Reins.

Dayle Campbell Gaetz.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2013.
230 pp., trade pbk., PDF, EPUB & MOBI, $8.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55050-552-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55050-553-5 (PDF), ISBN 978-1-55050-740-9 (EPUB), ISBN 978-1-55050-741-6 (MOBI).

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Iris Casey.

*** /4



[Katherine] blinked back tears. It seemed like years since her sister had died. Years since their journey from England came to such a tragic end. Since that ghastly day nothing had gone right until at last George could take no more and ran off in search of gold.

Would her parents ever forgive her for chasing after him? Running off after leaving only the briefest of notes on her pillow?

Dear Mother and Father,

Don’t worry about me. There is something I must do. I will be back in a few days.

Love, Katherine

She had dressed in George’s old clothes, tucked the gold rose nugget in her pocket, safely wrapped in a small cloth bag for fear of losing it. Then she tiptoed from the cabin, carrying her boots. Guided by silvery moonlight she set off on foot to find her brother, whose help was needed at home since Father’s injury.

Now Katherine touched the small hard lump in her pocket. Susan’s gold rose nugget protected her and kept her sister close. Without it, Katherine would never have gotten Nugget, and without such a fine horse she would never have caught up to her brother.


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.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.