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Release Date
November 15, 2022
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Life in 1880 Tenmile, Colorado, isn't easy. But it's all that 12-year-old Sissy Carlson knows. She's lived here her whole life, watching her father, the local doctor, tend to the town's citizens. And while the mountain setting is gorgeous, Tenmile is a rough gold mining town. It often feels like there's just a thin line between life and death. Mining is a hard job; men are hurt or even killed. Sissy sees the same thin line between the haves and the have-nots as she assists her father in his practice, seeing firsthand the personal and not-always-private struggles of his patients. Now that she's older, Sissy is starting to think of the world beyond Tenmile and where she might fit in. What opportunities might she find if she could just get away? What kind of future does Tenmile offer, especially for a girl? A poignant coming-of-age middle grade novel by New York Times-bestselling author Sandra Dallas.

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Colorado in the 1880s
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Sissy Carlson is reminded daily that living in Tenmile, Colorado in 1880 is difficult. While her father is the local doctor and she lives in a nice house, her mother died when she was young. Luckily, the housekeeper, Mrs. Greenwood (whom she calls Greenie) is kind and understands Sissy's desire to get an education and move away from the small mining town. The local school educates everyone, so some of Sissy's friends have much harder lives, especially the ones who live in Chicken Flats. Jack's father is a miner, but he also wants to pursue an education. When his father gambles away his wages and puts the family in debt, Jack has to quit school and go to work. Nelle's father runs a restaurant, but since her mother's death, more and more of the work has fallen to her and her sister Essie. When their work isn't satisfactory, their father often beats them. Poverty isn't the only thing that makes life hard; Sissy gets a job tutoring Willie, the son of the mine's owner, Mr. Gilpin, whose mother is so fearful of losing him that he is never allowed outside and has no friends. Sissy tries her best to keep up in school, but she is an integral part of her father's practice, helping to deliver babies and stitch up wounds at the mine, even though her father doesn't completely appreciate how much she contributes. When Jack is injured in a mine collapse, he is slow to heal, and she visits him. She helps Nelle out, and sometimes ventures out to gather mushrooms and visit with Sarah and her mother, helping to heal Sarah's father when he comes down with ague. She does help Willie, and brings Jack's young brother Pete to play with him, which seems to have a good effect on Willie's health as well as give him some empathy for the families who rely on his father's business. It's difficult to find a way to get out of Tenmile's harsh existence, but some of our characters manage. Sadly, not all of them manage to get out alive.
Good Points
There could certainly be a lot more books set in the late 1800s in the US West. There were many of these published in the first half of the twentieth century, but many have problematic content concerning the treatment of Native Americans. That issues is not addressed in this book, but there are plenty of details about life in a mining community during this time period.

A wide array of characters are portrayed, from mining families like Jack's to new transports from the South like Sarah and her mother Willow Louise. Mrs. Gilpin, the mine owner's wife, wants to keep her distance from the "lower classes", but most people, like her housekeeper Mrs. Ogden, know that the community is best served by having everyone work together. Greenie supports Sissy's ambitions and helps her to save money, encouraging her to set her sights on college. There is plenty of discussion about what the expectations are for girls, and how unusual it would be for Sissy to be able to train to be a doctor, but also community support for her when her skills are put to good use.

Fans of Wilder's Little House on the Prairie will be glad to see some familiar settings, like the school and restaurant, and it is fascinating to see the perspective of the doctor's household. Fans of Hobbs' City of Gold, Meyer's A Sky Full of Song and Park's Prairie Lotus will want to take a look at this slice of life novel about a time period quickly slipping from collective memory.
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