CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 2 . . . . September 9, 2011
Post-traumatic stress disorder had not yet been 'invented' in 1912, but Dorothy was suffering from it nevertheless. And she had every reason to do doing so, as Sarah Ellis manages to tell readers in this diary in Scholastic's popular "Dear Canada" series. Dorothy's diary begins by going back and forth between her present, survivor-of-disaster life in Halifax to her idyllic two-month stay with her English grandparents in the village of Lewisham. Gradually, as she writes of these 'safe' topics, Dorothy begins to introduce little asides pertaining to the Titanic: Grandfather and she pretending that their skiff is the Titanic, and how big it and the Southampton docks are; Grandfather and Owen, the housekeeper's son, trading facts about the vessel's construction and the number of 'things' that will be required to stock it for its maiden voyage. Eventually, at the prompting of her teacher, Dorothy tackles the question of 'how her cabin was different from her room at home'. Not a big question, but enough to open the floodgates so that by the end of the book the reader has most of the known facts about the disaster, as well as Dorothy's take on the whole horrible affair.
Sarah Ellis is adept at getting into the minds of young girls, especially young girls with gumption, courage, and initiative. Dorothy has all of these characteristics, which means that, during the first week of the trip, she explored the Titanic very thoroughly, including lots of places where she was not allowed to be. After the ship hit the iceberg, in spite of the hours in the lifeboat and days on the Carpathia being 'all blurry' in her mind, Dorothy still manages to convey a strong impression of just how dreadful everything was. Her mischievous rapscallion of a friend -- Marjory of the 'great big laugh' -- who, after her own rescue, could only look wildly around the Carpathia saying, 'Where's Papa? He said he was getting on that other boat!' Miss Pugh, the employee of Dorothy's father's bank and Dorothy's 'companion' on both voyages, who did not survive. Captain Smith, winner of Marjory's and her prize for the nicest beard on board, who did not survive. And then there was the guilt at being one of the ones who had survived.
That Fatal Night tells the familiar story very differently from the usual 'begin at the beginning and when you get to the end then stop' method. By Ellis's starting at the end and providing bits of the middle before finally getting to the beginning, the reader is given a very realistic picture of just how muddled everything was, including survival itself. Ellis has given readers a memorable heroine and a gutsy girl learning how to cope with the unthinkable.
For those as yet unacquainted with the "Dear Canada" series, each volume includes a set of relevant photographs from the period covered by the story. That Fatal Night is no exception, and the many pictures of the Titanic's interiors and exterior augment the word pictures to which readers have been treated throughout. There are also some pictures of actual passengers who were on the boat, some of whom Dorothy interacted with on the voyage before and after the collision.
That Fatal Night is a really good book -- definitely better than the Hollywood movie!
Mary Thomas lives in Winnipeg, MB, and has crossed the Atlantic only once by boat. She survived; so did the boat.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.