Embracing the Elephant
Undeterred by the most dire warnings, in 1848 eleven-year-old Guinevere Walker embarks on a perilous journey to reunite with her widowed father. From her home in Boston she sails to Rio de Janeiro, around Cape Horn, to the rudimentary town of San Francisco -- ultimately arriving at the California mountain range called the Sierra Nevada, known for both its beauty and brutality.
As Guine and her father struggle to forge a new relationship, they confront the most massive human migration the world has ever known: the California Gold Rush. Hundreds of thousands of fortune hunters from around the globe flood into the burgeoning territory to "See the Elephant" – to experience a great adventure, dig for a golden fortune, face the harshest realities, and search for their own personal truths.
Embracing the Elephant is a powerful story about one child coming of age at precisely the moment a nation enters its own new age. It is a tale of fierce determination, resilience, discovery and, best of all, hope.
This circuitous novel opens in 1848, as 11-year-old Guine boards an East Coast ship bound for San Francisco to join her widowed father. It's an arduous journey for Guine and may prove slow going for readers: Beninger delves into minutiae of life at sea and Guine's drawn-out interactions with passengers and crew. The pace quickens during an action-filled stop in Rio de Janeiro and the ship's treacherous rounding of Cape Horn, but the core adventure begins more than one-third of the way through the novel, when Guine is reunited with her father in California. The Gold Rush has begun, and he reluctantly agrees to let her accompany him to the Sierra Nevada, where he has staked a claim. Beninger provides a persuasive account of the rigors of living in a mining town fraught with greed, illness, racial tension, and violence (there's a rape, a hanging, and a throat slitting). Guine's deepening relationship with her father, as well as flashbacks to her more placid life in Boston, provide tender underpinnings for this historically evocative story.