Through the Gate
In 1890, Elsie and her mom are hired as servants for the Dunsmuir family, and they move into the family’s home, Craigdarroch Castle, on the coast of western Canada. While her mother is grateful for the opportunity, 15-year-old Elsie feels trapped. The Dunsmuir family own the mines her father died in during a tragic accident. Her only escape comes in the form of a Chinese servant who tends to the horses and laundry. Then the son of the Dunsmuir matriarch arrives from San Francisco. Elsie dreams of becoming an actress, and there’s a thriving theater business in San Francisco. Perhaps this visiting family member can make her dreams come true if he’ll hire her. While she practices performing in front of her Chinese friend, Elsie must be careful: their friendship is forbidden and could cost Elsie everything.
Elsie struggles with a sense of freedom and losing the memories of her father, while working for the Dunsmuirs, which is a beautifully-narrated journey. Overall, though, Elsie comes across as slightly immature. She talks back to her employers, sticks her tongue out at people, and goes through the Dunsmuir’s personal items. These actions feel too entitled for the time period and her station.
The story tackles multiple issues of growing up. Elsie becomes familiar with one of the Dunsmuir daughters, until Elsie’s love of performance threatens the daughter’s own need for attention resulting in bullying. Secondly, Elsie must deal with the racism against a Chinese servant she befriends who’s treated as less than human by everyone. The third is Elsie’s grief for her father. These issues are tackled sensitively and in a way that younger readers will relate to and understand. However, the ending comes about rather abruptly. I’m unsure if there’s a sequel coming, but many issues are left unresolved.