It's 1855, and 13-year-old budding poet Lucy has no desire to leave the safety of Pennsylvania, her school and her coming cotillion to head out to the dangerous town of Lawrence, Kan.
But her father is determined to travel to the lawless new territory to help fight to have it admitted to the Union as a free state and, at the same time, to finally find success running a store. The learning curve is steep for Lucy. After all her belongings are lost on the journey, she’s forced to wear only her lovely cotillion gown, totally inappropriate for the rough-and-tumble frontier. School is nothing like her genteel education back east, but there she meets classmate Annie, who lives outside of town and whose family secretly helps move slaves north to safety. After Lucy begins to help, inspired by ideals she finds in poetry, suspense rises palpably. Chapters begin with excerpts from period documents, mostly newspapers, ably setting the tone. While some characters seem included merely to demonstrate diversity—especially heroic Native American boy Levi—and a related subplot in which Lucy's younger brother falling under another boy’s bad influence feels superfluous, the historical accuracy and gritty hazards of tumultuous Kansas keep the tale on track.
Authenticity supported by her previous juvenile nonfiction works, McArthur has created a believable and fast-paced tale of life in the Kansas Territory. (Historical fiction. 10-15)