News that gold’s been discovered in northern Canada has just arrived in 1897 Seattle; learning that his brother, Mel, has joined the stampede of amateur prospectors, Jasper, 11, follows him north.
With their mother dead and their father alcoholic and unemployed, Mel, 16, was the family breadwinner. Feeling hurt and abandoned, afraid Mel might send him home, Jasper sneaks onto the ship that will take them to Skagway, Alaska. Jasper’s brought along their father’s gold pocket watch and mother’s washboard; resourceful and determined, he trades his laundry services for a place to sleep and money for food, avoiding capture as a stowaway. The prospectors embarking on this long, dangerous journey to the Klondike as winter approaches are rough, dishonest, and highly credulous (even Jasper questions whether Yukon gold litters the ground or grows on trees). But like them, Jasper’s spellbound by the story of One-Eyed Riley, an unhinged prospector who abandoned his valuable claim but left clues to its whereabouts. Untold riches await the miner who solves the riddles. Jasper narrates in the present tense, his homespun voice evoking both emotion and adventure. Rose milks the setting for all it’s worth. Jasper and Mel are both white.
Villains and allies provide colorful melodrama, but it’s the brothers’ struggle to survive the Yukon wilderness with its harsh beauty and unforgiving cold that will keep readers entranced. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)