Life at Deacon Smith’s Home for Waifs would be completely dreary if it weren’t for Possum’s best friend, Billy, who “thinks up lies faster than he can talk” and provides plenty of excitement for the other boys. When Billy hears that gold is hidden in the mountains—“Great big chunks of it, some of ’em big as your fist”—he plans to escape, taking Possum with him. The two runaways embark on a journey in search of their dream—the gold that will lead to a better life. To earn enough money for their adventure, they join Professor Alberto Santini, “savant of the healing arts,” and his road show. The professor teaches the boys how “spieling” can make a buck, but it’s only the professor who seems to be earning any money. Just as Possum and Billy realize that they’ve been conned, they get tangled up in a murder. The boys try to keep ahead of the law as they continue their search for gold, but their friendship becomes strained as Possum begins to feel more and more different from Billy. Is the boys’ friendship strong enough to carry them through to the end of their journey?
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“Set on the western frontier of the US in the
time of horse-and-buggies, the story has a light tone and is often humorous,
thanks to exaggeration, but it packs a wallop of exciting adventures and plot
twists. Readers will recognize the extent, as Possum does, of Billy’s character
flaws, but they’ll still like him. A good read-aloud selection that may lead to
discussion about likable rogues.”