Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Letters from the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California, 1850-1852

Letters from the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California, 1850-1852

Joan W. Blos
Historical Fiction
For ages 9 to 12
Simon and Schuster, 2007   ISBN: 978-0689870774

When she was just three years old little Eldora and her mother were traveling to San Francisco via Panama when Eldora’s mother got sick. Her mother sent little Eldora away from the illness- ridden place in the care of a sea captain. Eldora was supposed to be taken to her father in San Francisco but when it was discovered that her father had died, the sea captain took Eldora back to Massachusetts and gave her to the Holts.

Now Eldora and her foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Holt, have left the comforts of New England and have settled in San Francisco, hoping that they will find new opportunities there. Thanks to the Gold Rush there is an acute housing shortage in the city and so they are living in a house made of metal.

Eldora begins to make new friends in the strange new town. She takes a little Mexican girl called Lucia under her wing, and soon finds herself teaching English to Lucia’s brother Miguel. The Holts and Eldora also get to know a newspaper man and his son Luke. At first Luke is reluctant to say much and is unfriendly, but over time he and Eldora become good friends and when Luke goes to the “diggins” to dig for gold, he writes letters to Eldora.

Then Eldora gets the surprise of her life - her mother writes to her. Apparently her mother, now called Mrs. Ramos, did not die in Panama after all. All these years she has hoped to find her daughter and just by chance, she now has. Eldora and her mother meet, and soon after Mrs. Ramos asks Eldora to go to live with her. Eldora, feeling as if she is living in a fairy tale, agrees and together they travel to San Pedro, where Mrs. Ramos has her home.

Unfortunately, life with Mrs. Ramos is not what Eldora had hoped for. Her mother is a busy woman with many responsibilities and she is often away from home. Eldora begins to feel lonely. Her unhappiness is compounded when she hears that Miguel, her former student and friend, has been murdered at the diggings. Eldora begins to wonder if she made the right choice. Should she have stayed with the Holts after all? Would it have been better if they had all stayed in New England and not come to this wild and often dangerous place?

Set against the backdrop of California in the tumultuous Gold Rush years, this book not only tells the story of a thirteen year old girl and the people she comes into contact with, but it also tells the story of a very interesting time in American history. Readers will discover how dangerous and miserable life was in the “diggins,” and how few men actually left the gold fields with much of a fortune. The author tells her story in letter form, adding period style newspaper articles here and there to give the reader some ‘local color.’ By the end of the story we see how much Eldora and Luke have changed in just two years, and we cannot help hoping that they are able to fulfill their dreams in the years to come.