If you know me, you know I love the author Melanie Benjamin. I especially loved her Aviator’s Wife and Swans of Fifth Avenue, though I’ve read all her books. This story tells the true story (with fictional characters) of the horrific and sudden blizzard of 1888, one which took the lives of many schoolchildren as it hit suddenly when schools were releasing in the afternoon.
Here’s the overview:
From the New York Times best-selling author of The Aviator’s Wife comes a story of courage on the prairie, inspired by the devastating storm that struck the Great Plains in 1888, threatening the lives of hundreds of immigrant homesteaders, especially schoolchildren.
“Melanie Benjamin never fails to create compelling, unforgettable characters and place them against the backdrop of startling history.” (Lisa Wingate, author of The Book of Lost Friends)
The morning of January 12, 1888, was unusually mild, following a punishing cold spell. It was warm enough for the homesteaders of the Dakota Territory to venture out again and for their children to return to school without their heavy coats – leaving them unprepared when disaster struck. At the hour when most prairie schools were letting out for the day, a terrifying, fast-moving blizzard blew in without warning. Schoolteachers as young as 16 were suddenly faced with life-and-death decisions: Keep the children inside, to risk freezing to death when fuel ran out, or send them home, praying they wouldn’t get lost in the storm?
Based on actual oral histories of survivors, this gripping novel follows the stories of Raina and Gerda Olsen, two sisters, both schoolteachers – one becomes a hero of the storm and the other finds herself ostracized in the aftermath. It’s also the story of Anette Pedersen, a servant girl whose miraculous survival serves as a turning point in her life and touches the heart of Gavin Woodson, a newspaperman seeking redemption. It was Woodson and others like him who wrote the embellished news stories that lured Northern European immigrants across the sea to settle a pitiless land. Boosters needed them to settle territories into states, and they didn’t care what lies they told these families to get them there – or whose land it originally was.
At its heart, this is a story of courage, of children forced to grow up too soon, tied to the land because of their parents’ choices. It is a story of love taking root in the hard prairie ground and of families being torn asunder by a ferocious storm that is little remembered today – because so many of its victims were immigrants to this country.
I could not stop listening to this book. It was so engaging and suspenseful, and I loved the characters of Raina and little Anette. It definitely had its heart-breaking moments. I was so struck by how the school teachers were forced to make life and death decisions that day, and many of the teachers were just children themselves. The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, is new to me and I LOVED her narration (this required a Norwegian accent at times). I just googled her and she’s narrated over 900 audiobooks! I probably do know her, actually. Regardless, she is awesome!! And Melanie Benjamin is awesome every day of the week as well!
I got this one with an Audible credit as I was too late to the party for Net Galley. So glad I did!