By Melanie Benjamin
A MASTERFULLY WRITTEN HISTORICAL FICTION STORY BOUNDING WITH CHILLY DETAILS
January 12, 1888 started as a mild day on the Great Plains, especially in comparison to the frigid temperatures of the past weeks. The children of the Nebraska and Dakota Territory were anxious to get back to school and they left their heavy jackets at home. So when the freak storm hit, school teachers were faced with life and death decisions. Keep the children at the ill-prepared one room schoolhouse or send them home and pray they could safely find their way in the howling wind, deep snow and freezing temperatures.
The Children’s Blizzard is based on a true weather events and on the oral histories of its survivors. It follows two fictional sisters, both school teachers who survived: Gerda and Raina Olsen. In the aftermath, one was celebrated as a hero and the other was ostracized by her parents and the community.
Annette Peterson, a servant girl, also survives the blizzard and catches the eye of newspaperman and booster Gavin Woodson. Gavin, looking for an angle coins Annette as the Maiden of the Prairie. To offset the horrendous news of devastating death toll, which just might prevent more immigrants from moving to the Great Plains, Gavin writes of the heroism during the storm and the strength of those surviving its aftermath.
What a storm this must have been to instantly make the Great Plains such a devastating tradgey. Over 235 men, women and children who ventured out in the weather died. Temperatures reached a low of -40 degrees in some areas and the visibility was no more than three feet.
Benjamin’s descriptions of this storm was nothing short of gut-wrenching. THE CHILDREN’s BLIZZARD is a masterfully written historical fiction story bounding with details. Her writing is enlightening and intense.
The tension and drama unfolds at a slow pace. You can’t help but feel the icy wind and wet snow with very step taken by Raina, Gerda and Annette. Benjamin makes your heart go out to those 235 lost souls who were unfortunate enough to have to face the storm and what they must have endured.
One of the most interestingly parts of the book, was Benjamins bird’s eye description of the sparkling and snow-laden landscape the day after the storm. While I loved the description, I found the perspective from the hawk as he searched for food amid the secrets held by the snow, either brilliant or freaky. And I am not totally not sure which…perhaps both.
Benjamin is the best selling author of several books including: Mistress of the Ritz (2019), The Aviator’s Wife (2013), The Girls in the Picture (2018) and The Swans of Fifth Avenue (2016). Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher Random House Ballantine
Published January 12, 2021