A sturdy tale of a 14-year-old tomboy facing the realities of growing up, complicated by her being part of the westward trek to California in the 1850's. Abigail Parker, her mother, and her brother have joined a small wagon train to attempt to find her father, a victim of gold fever from whom they have not heard since he left their midwest home a year ago. With them is her father's brother, a taciturn man; his refined new wife; and the mysterious Matthew, who asks to accompany them for reasons he keeps to himself. As they travel from Independence to Yuba City, Abby must deal with her emergence as a woman, with all the changes and limitations that that threatens. Among the changes is a growing feeling of attraction to Matthew, in part inspired by empathy when he confides his plight: he is searching for his runaway sister and fears what he will find. As the journey continues, the hardships increase until the party's arrival in California in a state of near starvation, complicated by tragedies that have touched them all and given Abby a more realistic outlook. While the writing is undistinguished, this is an absorbing first novel, with its spunky heroine carrying most of the book's interest. A utilitarian effort of interest to older girls.