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The Balloon Boy of San Francisco: 04/14/10
In October 2009 we had the "Balloon Boy" hoax. Back in 1853 Oakland California had it's very own real life balloon boy, Joseph “Ready” Gates, a sixteen year old San Francisco produce merchant. Shortly after the October hoax, I saw The Balloon Boy of San Francisco by Dorothy Kupcha Leland on prominent display in the children's room at my library. As you can imagine I had to check it out.
Although my decision to read the book was based on current events I would have enjoyed the book without that motivation. It's a fascinating and well written glimpse at life in San Francisco when the gold rush was going strong.
The balloon incident while the climax of the book is not the main focus. Randy spends most of the book helping a woman locate her brother. She has arrived in San Francisco on a ship and is dismayed when her brother isn't at the docks to meet her. Randy and his family help her adjust to life in the city and Randy goes the extra step to use his connections to track down leads on her brother's whereabouts.
The balloon ride then comes as a dramatic climax and pause in the mystery of the missing brother. There's a map included that shows the path of the balloon as it leaves Oakland and flies up and over the Oakland hills, over Mt Diablo, towards Martinez over where the Benicia bridge now stands, up to a piece of land just north of Grizzly Bay.
For me the big treat was reading the descriptions of all the East Bay landmarks I am so intimately familiar with. So often when a novel is set in San Francisco, everything else around The City is forgotten or ignored. It was refreshing to see Joseph living San Francisco in the context of the other cities and towns.
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