It's always neat to read a book set in your home state, especially if it's not written about very much. I've lived most of my life in Missouri, and most of that in St. Louis. So to have a book about a girl from St. Louis that rides on a riverboat up the Missouri River in 1852 is a nice change from all the books about westward expansion that only begin after leaving Missouri.
Emma is 10 years old & is travelling with her mother & a family friend on the riverboat Sally May up to St. Joe, Missouri to meet her father. From there they have plans to travel west to California and seek their fortune in the gold boom. Emma has finagled her mother into allowing her pony, Licorice Twist, to come also, despite the extra stress this causes the family. Emma is worried that Dr. Burton, the family friend, isn't going to make sure that Twist is taken care of properly on board the Sally May, so she sneaks off to the lowest level of the steamboat to take care of him herself. There she meets Patrick, an Irish stowaway, and befriends him.
The details are expertly given on riverboat travel at the time, and I learned quite a few things about them. I didn't know that there were steerage passengers on steamboats also at that time, though after learning that it didn't surprise me that they were treated so poorly. I did know of the dangers of riverboat travel, especially the nasty habit they had of blowing up, after learning a few years back about Mark Twain's younger brother who died in a riverboat accident. They would try to race each other and get to their destinations fast, so they pushed the edge of their steam engines quite a bit.
I was a little disappointed in the ending of the book since it ended so happily--all of the main characters not only survive the blast, but decide to travel west together. But that could be because I'm a jaded adult reading a children's book!
All in all, it was a well done historical read, one that would help children really get into the past and understand what went on.