________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 2 . . . . September 20, 2002

cover Jo's Triumph. (An Orca Young Reader).

Nikki Tate.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2002.
140 pp., pbk., $6.95.
ISBN 1-55143-199-8.

Subject Heading:
Pony express-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Mary Thomas.

** /4



"We need more men like him," a voice said....

"Aye. That we do. I have a notice posted. With any luck we'll attract some fresh blood." ... I moved quietly to where a tall, black horse was tethered. Big Sam was a handsome animal. He steamed slightly in the cool air of the barn as he munched his hay. The men sounded like they were with the Pony Express. It didn't take long for me to find the notice they had spoken of. It was posted clear as day on the front wall of the freight company.

Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows.
Not over 18. Must be willing to risk death daily.
Orphans preferred.
Wages $25 per week.
Inquire within.

Orphans preferred. Well, that was me sure enough. It was horses. It was riding, and they wanted skinny boys. Sure I was skinny, but did I look enough like a boy to get the job? If I did, the work would get me out of town in a hurry. I looked up the road again. Then, without pondering further on the ifs and maybes, I stepped forward and knocked on the freight office door.

Thirteen-year-old Joselyn hates and despises the Carson City Home for Unfortunate Girls, the orphanage into which she has been placed by her brothers after the death of their father. The boys joined the Gold Rush and went off to California, and Jo, loving the outdoors and especially horses, is left learning sums and needlework. Bor-ing! When the threat of an Indian attack has the orphans billeted in "safe" houses in town, Jo meets and makes friends with Sarah, a daughter of a Paiute chief. Encouraged by her, Jo determines to escape being sent back to the Home, steals some clothes and, disguised as a boy, gets a job as a rider for the Pony Express. Unfortunately, one of her fellow riders discovers that she is a girl and threatens exposure unless she helps him steal a consignment of money he's heard is coming through. With the help of some of Sarah's family, Jo manages to prevent the robbery, catch the thief and collect a reward big enough for coach fare to California as well as a grub stake to go panning for gold. She has triumphed over racism (her own distrust of all Indians), sexism (her society's), and crime, all in one fell swoop!

     Some of the historical bits of this novel are very interesting indeed. It is amazing that mail could cross the United States from New York to California in only ten days using only fast horses and good riders. It compares well with the present post office records! Of course, they managed it by wasting no time at all on changing horses or riders, a typical interval between arrival and departure being between one and two minutes. Now we move letters faster but seem to store them interminably at transfer points, making delivery times very similar. It is, however, hard to believe that the service which made its legendary history in the course of only a year and a half, could have done so had the contents of the pouches been such open secrets as they are portrayed here. Swearing an oath of "Mail first, pony second, and rider last" goes only so far when figured against general greed and dishonesty. The historical notes at the back of the book say that the character of Joselyn is based on that of a couple of women who dressed as men and managed in the man's world of the Wild West, but somehow Jo does not come through very convincingly. She has pluck, but also a great deal of luck, including having the station master believe her story rather than that of the bad guy. And having it be Sarah's tribe that she encounters when lost in a snow storm is coincidence piled on coincidence. Jo may have triumphed in this particular case, but somehow I don't see her having great success in the gold fields. What's more, and more damning, I don't care much.

Recommended with reservations.

Mary Thomas has worked in several elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, and is presently on leave, but job-hunting, in Oxford, England, where there are a number of libraries to investigate.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364