Saturday, July 14, 2018
A Blinding Light, written by Julie Lawson. Nimbus Publishing. 2017. $14.95 ages 12 and up
I recently sat on a jury that allowed me the privilege of reading some pretty darn good books of historical fiction. This was but one of them. Prior to reading it, I had a fair bit of knowledge about the Halifax Explosion that happened in December 1917. I knew the horror of its impact, but with only superficial attention to the disaster that it must have been. After all, I was reading it from a historical perspective, full of facts and not much more.
Julie Lawson brings it to a very personal level for her readers as she explores the event that changed so many lives. While including all of the pertinent information that led to the two ships colliding in Halifax harbor on that fateful day, she tells her story from two points of view: Livy Schneider is 13, her brother Wilhelm, 15.
Both are treated badly because of their German heritage. Their story begins in November 1917 and ends in March 1918. We learn about the earlier death of their father, who does his best not to respond to taunts and jeers from those who hate him for his German heritage. He died while sailing rough seas. He is sorely missed. Their mother is a critical and stern woman, who lives in the hope that her husband will someday return since his body was not recovered.
When the explosion occurs, Livy is running an errand for her mother in the north end of the city. She finds herself trapped in the rubble with a little one and a puppy. Unable to find where they belong, she takes them home. Prior to the disaster this would not have been an acceptable situation for her conservative, prudish mother who gloried in the family's status and wealth. Her mother's injury and loss of one eye occasions a change in her attitude toward others, and those in need of help and support. We see these changes through Livy's narration, and her own willingness to become more generous and accepting.
Her mother shares a very astute observation following the loss of her eye to flying glass:
"I had two good eyes but I never saw beyond my side of a story," she tells Livy. "Now ...I'll try to see two sides of a story with my one good eye."
Quite the turnabout!
Will, on the other hand, is busy delivering messages from one part of the city to another, and helping with the rescue and relief efforts. His viewpoint shares the havoc wreaked on the city by the explosion, as well as a clearer understanding of the events that led to that particular moment in history.
Ms. Lawson tells a strong family story of tragedy and triumph. The characters are strong, while flawed. They learn much about themselves, about recovery and about community as they face the changes the disaster inflicts on so many people. In her author's note she provides clear information and dramatic descriptions of what happened that fateful day in Canadian history.