Will Hobbs

Jason’s Gold

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Jason’s Gold Summary

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Jason’s Gold is a young adult adventure novel by Will Hobbs, published in 1999. The story follows fifteen-year-old Jason Hawthorn, who dreams of striking it rich during the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush. His journey takes him across the United States, through Canada, and finally into Alaska. Along the way Jason must survive starvation, freezing temperatures, rough terrain, and attacks from wild animals, as well as endure cruelty and deception from unscrupulous people. Hobbs’ vivid descriptions of the harsh Alaskan wilderness, as well as his lifelike imaginings of historical events, add to the realism of Jason’s Gold. Hobbs also includes actual historical figures, like author Jack London, as characters in the novel.

In an Author’s Note, Hobbs shares that Jason’s Gold was inspired by memories of his own childhood in Alaska in the 1950s. Jason’s Gold won an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults Award in 2000 and was listed on ALA’s 2000 Quick Picks for Young Adults. Hobbs incorporates themes of courage, integrity, and perseverance in this outdoor adventure.

Jason Hawthorn has been in New York City working as a newsboy for only five days when the daily headline of the paper he’s hawking causes an uproar: “Gold in Alaska.” It is July 17, 1897, and the article in the New York Herald describes a ship filled with gold that arrives in Seattle from Alaska. The prospectors on board declare that the Klondike is the richest goldfield in the world.

Jason shares his late father’s dream of being his own boss, not just working for a paycheck like everyone else. He recalls his father’s words:“it’s the roving bee that gathers the honey.” Jason decides to return home to Seattle, retrieve the $500 inheritance his father left him, and set out to make his fortune in the Klondike. He hops trains across the country, meeting an old-timer who had experienced the 1849 California Gold Rush. The old man explains that Jason is going to “see the elephant”—a metaphor for seeing and experiencing the world.

When Jason arrives back home in Seattle, he discovers that his two brothers, Abraham and Ethan, have taken his inheritance money and left for the Klondike themselves. Not knowing where to reach Jason, they’ve left him a letter making him a partner in their endeavor. Jason is dismayed, but remembers his father’s words: “you can do whatever you set your mind to.” Jason decides to catch up with his brothers. His landlady, Mrs. Beal, gives Jason $10 for his voyage, and Jason stows away aboard a ship, the Yakima.

Onboard, Jason runs afoul of a ring of thieves who want Jason to work for them. Jason refuses, and one of the thieves, Kid Barker, alerts the authorities that Jason doesn’t have a ticket. Jason is kicked off the boat and beaten. Alone on a beach, Jason meets twenty-one-year-old Jack London. The two trade stories and discuss routes to Dawson City, the “Golden City” on the Yukon River, and the edge of the Klondike. Jason isn’t sure which route his brothers took. London lets Jason travel with his party close to the city of Skagway.

Skagway is crowded with greenhorns like Jason who are unprepared for conditions in Alaska. Like Jason, many have no money, food, or proper gear. Jason hires himself out as a horse wrangler and sets out over Dead Horse Trail to White Pass. Dead Horse Trail is nearly impassable: crowded with people, mud, and dying animals. Jason witnesses the cruelty and desperation of many of the men on the trail. He sees one man drowning each of his dogs, and steps in to save the last one, a Husky. The man gives Jason the dog, and then blows his own brains out. Jason and the Husky, King, return to Skagway, determined to take the other route over Chilkoot Pass.

In Skagway, Jason gets food poisoning and is nursed back to health by two poets; a young Canadian girl, Jamie, and her father. They soon leave Jason for Dawson City. Jason gets news of his brothers from people who have met them during their travels, and knows he is falling farther behind. Jason meets Jack London again, and the man gives Jason the food and gear one of his partners had to leave behind.

Jason crosses the dangerous Chilkoot Pass and starts the next stage of his journey by canoe. He knows winter is coming and the lakes ahead of him will soon freeze over. While gathering food, Jason is attacked and injured by a moose. A man named Henderson rescues him and leaves him to recover in a small cabin which once belonged to George Carmack, the first man to strike gold in the Klondike. One day, a party of men and an injured boy, Charlie, arrive at the cabin. Charlie’s leg is gangrenous. Charlie’s uncle chops off his leg and leaves Charlie behind with Jason. Charlie survives and the two become friends over the long winter. Jason goes bear hunting to add to their dwindling food supply, and King is mauled by a bear. The Husky dies.

In spring, the river is again passable and crowded with ships heading for the Klondike. Jason and Charlie finally reach Dawson City. There, Jason finds his brothers. Abraham and Ethan have their own sawmill and a booming business. They explain that by the time they arrived, all the good gold mining claims were already staked. In Dawson City, Jason sees Jamie, who is performing in a popular show at the local theater. Their reunion is short-lived, because she and her father are taking the show on tour. Jason also sees Jack London again. Jason is sad to hear London is returning to California but excited his friend may turn his Alaskan experiences into books. Finally, Jason meets the old man from the train, and tells the old-timer that he has indeed “seen the elephant.”