Even in today's modern society boys and girls are separated by norms. Boys are told they should play physical sports and girls are told they should take dance classes. Yet, we have great male dances and wonderful female athletes.
In Victorian England it was much worse for girls than it is today, and Sally Lockhart had it very bad indeed. Her father had raised her a strong independent young lady who could handle an office of a major international shipping company, but couldn't by a proper lady for a gentleman of those days. When her father was killed in a ship wreck, Sally was placed in the trust of her aunt that treated her very poorly and made it clear Sally had no future.
Sally receives a warning and goes to investigate it, leaving behind her first of many dead bodies. Sally is fortunate that her father taught her to use a pistol, for by the end of the novel it will have saved her life. Sally picks up her first new friend Jim a young boy that reads pennies. Pennies are junk novels of the time and of course cost a penny. To put this in modern tern Jim is the equivalent of a young boy that stays up late at night watching old movies on UHF channels.
Sally's first death does not go unnoticed and events start to unfold that will put Sally in mortal danger.
Sally uses her ability to solve problems
Sally taught and loved helping her father handle the books of this shipping firm, yet as a girl and a 16 year old at that her employment opportunities were limited and it was no longer safe for her to stay with her Aunt. So she went for help. The help was in the lines of a photographer she met and lent her a helping hand. She discovered he needed bookkeeping help and she offered it for room and board. With the photographer and Jim in hand she is no able to solve the mystery of her fathers death.
Much Blood and Drugs follow
This novel does talk about the Opium wars and the evil of Opium but it also has Sally using Opium in order to solve the mystery of her fathers death. Besides Opium there is murder, bad guys die as well as good guys. Plus their is lots of pain suffered by the goods.
As a read of 24 years of age, I didn't find any of this questionable but I would encourage a parent to read this book BEFORE giving it to a child if they are not sure the material is suitable.
Pullman's other books
This book is very hard to find, I had to special order it from Barnes and Nobles in New York City, but other Pullman books The Golden Compass can be found ANYWHERE, including the airport book stores.