Finally today I finished it, and boy, O'Dell outdoes himself once again. I love his work, the way he writes, his characters, the plotlines, his settings - it seems that each book I read by him is better than the last.
Carlota lives in the California lowlands and spends her days trying to take the place of her dead brother. Her father is so devastated by the loss that he tries everything to make Carlota into what he wanted. She does everything he would have done - races her stallion (against her grandmother's wishes), dives into shark-infested waters searching for gold, and fights battles that rage between the Mexicans and the Americans. At sixteen she is fearless - and that pleases her father very much.
But while Carlota thoroughly enjoys freedoms most other women are denied, she wants to be more that her father's "son." She wants to be herself, brave and courageous but free to show tenderness and compassion as well - things her father does not encourage. He thinks those feelings are shameful, so Carlota must defy him at a huge cost. That ends up being her most difficult battle of all.
I really enjoyed this book, but like many Scott O'Dell books, it was a little hard to get into. Once into it though, I couldn't put it down. He does an amazing job with the setting - you really do become invested in the place and events of the time period. The War with Mexico is one that is not typically written about in young adult literature so it is nice to see O'Dell bringing that time period into the genre. There are lots of Spanish terms throughout the novel, some which I understood and others which I did not.
The story of a young girl paving her way in a man's world is not an uncommon one and I think he did a great job with her character. Her interactions with the men she encounters - vaqueros and gringos - are interesting and are really what defines her character.