Much Ado About Grubstake

Written by Jean Ferris
Review by Carol Anne Germain

In the 19th century, penny dreadfuls were sensational tales of crime, adventure, or horror. These inexpensive texts, printed on cheap paper, were a favorite of boys and some girls. The protagonist of Grubstake, Arley, is a highly-spirited and self-sufficient 16-year-old girl who loves penny dreadfuls. As the proprietor of a run-down boardinghouse, this young lady works hard to keep her rag-tag bunch of mining tenants in line.

When the monthly train arrives with a new batch of these dime novels for Arley, it also contains a smooth-talking con artist looking to pay high prices for the area’s “worthless” mines. Arley becomes suspicious and makes it clear that she’ll get to the bottom of this situation. From that point on, this tale of the haphazard western town of Grubstake in 1888 becomes a thrilling adventure, with Arley leading the excitement. There’s an entertaining cast of eclectic characters, from the Chinese baker who cooks up donuts and sound philosophies to the dark geology expert, all of whom add to the fun-filled adventure.

If you’re ready for a penny dreadful, this book is for you. Ages 10 and up.