CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2011.
Ghosts of the Titanic.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2011.
193 pp., pbk., $8.99.
Titanic (Steamship)-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Chris Laurie.
Strachan lifted the child out of the water and gently laid him down. Someone who loved him had dressed him for the cold. A little grey coat with fur on the collar and cuffs, a brown serge frock underneath. Brown shoes and stockings.
A deep and respectful stillness fell over the men. In a voice heavy with emotion, Strachan said, ĎIf no one claims his body, Iíll pay for his funeral myselfí.Ē
Award-winner Julie Lawson, author of No Safe Harbour, White Jade Tiger, and many other books, has brought readers another exciting historical thriller. Twelve-year-old Kevin Messengerís father has just received a mysterious inheritance that causes the family to relocate from Victoria, BC, to Halifax, NS.
The narrative then cuts back in time almost one hundred years, introducing readers to 17-year-old Ordinary Seaman Angus Seaton. Angus is embarking on his first voyage aboard the cable ship Mackay-Bennett in 1912, a vessel which has been chartered by the White Star Line to recover bodies from the Titanic disaster. Angusís recovery mission takes a fateful turn when he pockets a small purse from one of the young female victims while grappling to bring her body aboard. As a result of this action, he is repeatedly visited by her apparition which pleads with him to know of the whereabouts of her baby Michael.
In present-day Halifax, Kevin also finds himself visited by her ghostly pleadings. Inside the ocean-front home that has been left to his father by a man whom none of the family knew, Kevin finds a curious artefact, a carved, wooden box that has been secreted away in a dusty, crevice in a basement wall. Inside the box is a false bottom that contains a locket with a picture of the girl, Annie, and her infant Michael. As Kevin unravels the mystery, the ramifications of what Angus did that day aboard the Mackay-Bennett are revealed. Readers also discover why Annie called to Angus, calls to Kevin, and what Kevinís relationship to both of them is. In a final spine-tingling encounter with Annieís ghost, Kevin is torn from present day Halifax and transported aboard the Titanic, itself, to the sound of screaming metal and the rush of ice-cold water.
With an eye for historical detail, as well as dialogue that rings true to both character and time-period, Lawson has woven a fascinating fiction around historical fact. Readers interested in the Titanic (and who isnít?) will delight in the novelís backstory, which all happened one century ago. Those wishing to know more about the subject can refer to the Titanic website as well as visit Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition, both of which our hero Kevin does in the novel. Reference also to the Halifax Explosion will set readers in search of more on that story. They would do well to seek out another Lawson gem, No Safe Harbour.
Via tight plotting and consistently believable relationships, Lawson has created another great historical action novel, and a timely one at that - the 100th anniversary of the iconic disaster is only months away. Ghosts of the Titanic brought back the excitement I remember so fondly upon receiving my much-anticipated Scholastic orders as a youth.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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