CM . . . . Volume XX Number 8 . . . . October 25, 2013
Thirteen-year-old Lucy is afraid of boats. She is fearless on the playground and loves a challenge, but the idea of getting on a boat is terrifying to her, a situation which results in her classmates dubbing her "Lucy Landlubber." After she has a nightmare that she and her dad are caught on a boat in a raging storm, she knows that, despite her fear, she has to accompany him on his next voyage on the freighter, the J.S. McConnell. But sailing on the Great Lakes in November can be dangerous at the best of times, and this year the omens suggest a storm is coming. When her dad refuses to allow her to go with him, she dresses as a boy and sneaks on board anyway. Then the White Hurricane of 1913 hits.
Author Barbara Aggerholm bases her story on a historical event that occurred between November 7 and November 10, 1913. She indicates more than 250 men and women were killed during the storm. The tragedy of the event provides a powerful backdrop to the personal story of Lucy's overcoming her own fears. To create greater tension, and to depict how the storm affected so many lives, Aggerholm chooses to follow the actions of a number of characters to tell her tale. Although she focuses on Lucy's journey, she also uses a cast of secondary characters, including Curtis Malone, a weather bureau's spotter, and Nate Calhoun, a hungry young newspaper reporter.
By switching between the different characters, Aggerholm successfully builds the tension of the tale as the storm draws closer and then crashes down on the freighter. This technique can be tricky for an author, however, because it can be difficult to develop a cohesive story. After the storm, the author jumps between characters depicting how the storm affected the men, families, and communities around the lake. Aggerholm provides interesting details about her secondary characters, but the changing point of view fragments the plot, turning the novel into a series of vignettes. The focus on the small stories may draw readers' attention away from the main plot line.
I would have appreciated more information about the historical events of the story in an endnote. Some of her side stories made me curious to know which events were fiction and which were historical. For example, the author focuses on a little dog that died in the storm and to which a memorial has been dedicated. Did this actually happen? An end note with additional information could definitely enrich the story and encourage students to reads each the event further.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.