Saturday, November 12, 2011
That Fatal Night, written by Sarah Ellis. Scholastic, 2011. $14.99 ages 10 and up
"What else went on at Mill House? There was reading, at all times of the day and in all different places. Mill House was messy with reading. There were always newspapers and illustrated papers lying about and books lying on chairs. Sometimes two people would be reading the same book and there was a great to-do when somebody took it away."
Mill House is a place where I could live, and it provides comfort and contentment for Dorothy while she is living there with her grandparents. She has come to England to meet them. In the process she also meets their housekeeper and her twins. They become close friends during her stay. Too soon it is time for her to make the voyage back to her parents. Her father books her a ticket on the grandest ship of their time...the Titanic. It is a trip that will change her life forever.
Through diary entries we learn that Dorothy is home, having survived the tragedy that many did not. She doesn't want to talk about it, or even think about it. She wants life to be as it was before her visit to England and her grandparents. That is not to be.
Anger directed at a mean and spiteful girl results in physical contact, then expulsion for Dorothy. Her teacher gives her a diary and suggests that talking about what happened might be easier through writing. Initially, Dorothy has no interest in doing anything of the kind. As the days pass, she begins to open up about her feelings, the events and the guilt she has at being one of the survivors. Her companion Miss Pugh does not survive and Dorothy is sure she is to blame for her death.
It is an interesting look at Dorothy's life in the present as the diary moves back and forth from her time with her grandparents to her life on the ship, and then to her present life at home. She begins with everything that is 'safe' and worth remembering. As she writes she starts to add details about the Titanic that she has learned both on and off the ship.
Sarah Ellis has done her homework concerning the tragedy, the ship, and the events of the day. She is adept at creating characters in all of her books who are real, and memorable. She has done the same with Dorothy, who is strong, brave and independent. She is an explorer and a thinker. Despite her aversion to sharing memories of that fateful night, she is able to get to the heart of the terror that she experiences, and the guilt she feels at being a survivor when so many were not.
Archival photographs, historical notes and an author's note add much to the information that those readers interested in all things Titanic will appreciate. A most worthy addition to the Dear Canada series from a much-honored and very skilled writer.