CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 19. . . .January 22, 2010
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2009.
228 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919-Canada-Juvenile literature.
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Myra Junyk.
David didn't need to feel bad about sewing now. He was doing his bit for the war effort! Even soldiers in the army were issued with sewing kits as part of their gear. Of course, they usually referred to their kits as "housewives" but still…. If soldiers sometimes had to do their own sewing, how much shame could there be in doing it at home?
Most nights, after Alice went to bed, David sat with his mother and they sewed together. She had brought home an old sewing machine from the hat factory and used it for big jobs. David did most of the small repairs by hand. Often when they were working his mother told David stories about when she was a girl back in Ireland. One night, she told him how she and her brother had come to Canada.
Based on the events of the deadly Spanish Influenza in Canada in 1919, Eric Zweig's novel Fever Season describes the impact of the epidemic on 13-year-old David Saifert. David is an English Canadian in Montreal whose parents work in the garment industry. When World War I begins, his father volunteers for military duty and is sent to Europe. He is killed, and the family struggles to make ends meet. David helps out at home by taking care of his little sister, Alice, while his mother works.
However, everything changes when Alice comes down with the flu. David and his mother also succumb to the disease. David wakes up several days later at an infirmary only to discover that he is now alone in the world. His mother and sister have died from the Spanish Influenza, and David must now learn to cope with life at the Montefiore Home, an orphanage where he can stay until his sixteenth birthday. However, David longs to have a family once again. His mother once told him about a long-lost brother named Danny who had been adopted and had moved away to Seattle. Helped by his friends at the orphanage, David gets a job with the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. When the Canadiens make the playoffs in Seattle, David hopes that he will be able to find his uncle.
David Saifert is a character that will appeal to young readers. When he is a young child, his struggles with racist bullies prompt his father to take him to a hockey game. This leads to David's lifelong love of hockey, which helps him find his uncle. David is a multidimensional character. He learns to sew while sitting quietly at his mother's feet as she works in a factory. Although he hesitates to reveal his love of sewing, David discovers that this skill can get him a job with the hockey team, which changes his life.
In this time of H1N1 flu headlines, readers will be interested to learn about the effects of an earlier global pandemic. "The numbers were horrifying, but the speed of the disease was also frightening." Precautions taken by David's family during the epidemic will remind readers of today's warnings about hand-washing and sneezing into a tissue or one's arm. Many interesting historical details are provided about the First World War and the impact of the Spanish Influenza on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At times perhaps, readers may be a bit overwhelmed by the overly lengthy and detailed descriptions.
Eric Zweig, a sports historian, has written a very readable novel about a time in history that mirrors some of the issues we are facing today. David's friendship with the "tough guy" Joe Hall, who actually died of the Spanish Influenza during the course of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1919, will help readers to understand the human impact of the epidemic.
Myra Junyk, who lives in Toronto, ON, is a literacy advocate and author.
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