Searching For Silverheels
Juvenile historical fiction
Pearl (13), protagonist of Jeannie Mobley's Searching for
Silverheels, has a nemesis. Josie, a vintage suffragist practically
lives in Pearl's family's restaurant where Pearl waits tables and her
mom presides over the kitchen. (Her dad is off mining minerals
essential for the war and her brother is perilously close to draft
age). Besides being all round cantankerous, opinionated, and
unpleasant, Josie gets under Pearl's skin in a number of ways. She
hands out leaflets and preaches on women's right to vote in a way that
Pearl fears will drive away paying customers. She expresses opinions
that some leading town citizens feel are seditious. Criticizing a
president during a world war is not a way to win friends and influence
people in a small western town. She ridicules the ideas about romance
Pearl has gleaned from dime novels and penny dreadfuls and has nothing
to say about the good looking boy Pearl has a crush on.
Pearl's mother indulges in many acts of kindness toward Josie
and insists that Pearl be polite and gracious. It's rude to be
disrespectful to one's elders. Perhaps more importantly, neighbors
take care of one another.
Perhaps their area of most contention is Silverheels, the
legendary gold rush dancer for whom a mountain and the restaurant are
named. Pearl tells tourists a story of a woman, beloved by miners,
who stayed with them to tend to the desperately ill during a smallpox
epidemic and tragically lost the love of her life. Josie sees a
scoundrel and opportunist who used her beauty to manipulate and
steal. If she stuck around during the epidemic it was to cadge the
gold from dead and dying miners.
Eventually things come to a head and they make a wager. If
Pearl proves conclusively that Silverheels was a "sweet angel of
mercy" Josie will stop talking politics in the cafe. If Josie's
version of the story turns out to be true and Silverheels was a "con
and theif" Pearl will have to help her give out handbills for a week.
This novel with its captivating plot is rich in a sense of time
and place. It takes readers back to when women fighting for the right
to vote clashed with proponants of paternalism and patriarchy, young
boys fearing being thrust into combat hid their feelings, fearful of
being ostracized for cowardice, long term neighbors were suddenly
shunned for Germanic ancestry and names, and a rich, influential
family can enforce its every whim on a small town.
On a personal note, once again clean sweep was a total success. It's
a UMaine tradition: a big old yard sale of all the stuff students
leave behind in dorms. It's the yard sale all the other yard sales
wish they were. I was in charge of the clothes room like always.
That's why they always call it Julia's closet. I had fun helping
customers. I had a grand time hanging with the students. Lisa got us
lunch from Family Dog the first day and lunch from Governors and
Blizzards from Dairy Queen the second. In between she had a mini
fridge full of cold drinks. I ended up with lots of good stuff
including to die for clothes and jewelery, pens, household stuff, and
even a minions snow globe. And the journal. Every year I find me at
least one journal.
A great big shout out goes out to the students, the customers, and, of
course, Lisa Morin who kept everything running smoothly and made it
all look easy.
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