________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003


Emily: Disaster at the Bridge. (Our Canadian Girl).

Julie Lawson.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2002.
96 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 0-14-331206-5.

Subject Headings:
Street railroads-British Columbia-Victoria-Accidents-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

*** /4


Slowly, Car 16 rolled onto the bridge. "We'll be lucky to get over with this load," the conductor remarked.

Emily took no notice of his words. What an adventure, taking the streetcar over the Gorge. And how brave of George to go on his bicycle. She was about to say as much to Alice when she heard a loud crack, like a gunshot. Her stomach lurched. Suddenly afraid, she reached for Alice's hand.

Then a second explosive crack split the air. Emily felt herself falling. The world turned into a terrifying confusion of arms and legs and bodies as the streetcar dropped through space and crashed into the water below.

This edition of the “Our Canadian Girl” series finds Emily, on May 26, 1896, caught in the worst streetcar accident ever to occur in North America. Emily's tale offers readers a glimpse of what life was like in the new province of British Columbia in the 1890's, when Victoria was largely a city with a British heritage, with all its attendant attitudes.

     Emily's family is from the middle economic strata. An economic recession is having its effect; her longed-for bicycle remains a dream as her parents worry about finances. Her best friend, Alice, comes under the influence of the confident new girl in school, Florence Featherby-Jones, who has just come from London and looks down on the "colonists." Florence is manipulative and knows how to turn people against each other while feigning innocence. Emily tries to keep hold of Alice, but their friendship is damaged.

     Emily is incredulous that no one else can see Florence for what she is. She finds solace in the advice of the family's servant, Hing. The subplot of Hing's struggle to bring his family to Canada after 10 years of separation informs the reader but only alludes briefly the abuse of Chinese labor and the discriminatory laws that restricted their immigration. Emily is made even more miserable by the knowledge that her beloved Hing is leaving the family to open up his own Chinese restaurant. She brightens at the prospect of meeting his daughter, Mei Yuk.

     This is the era of Queen Victoria and unquestioning loyalty to the Crown, and so readers see Emily practicing for and participating in races to celebrate the Queen's birthday. Formerly Emily had been one of the top runners in school; however, Florence proves to be not only smart and pretty but athletic as well. She cheats when it appears that Emily will win, although that act finally opens Alice's eyes.

     Everyone sets out for home at the same time on the streetcars, setting the stage for the death of 55 holiday celebrants when the overloaded vehicle caused the wooden bridge to collapse. The disaster brings order back to Emily's world. Florence's father dies in the disaster, and the family decides to return to England.

     Julie Lawson has created an engaging story about a girl trying to hold on to everything she holds dear while her world changes. The event-filled plot, with the backdrop of Victoria during Victorian times, make the story move along. The disaster is the climax, and the conclusion satisfies the reader by explaining the events.

     The cover art, however, tries to include too many of the themes discussed in the book. A simpler picture would be more appealing.

     Young girls especially will enjoy reading Disaster at the Bridge.

Highly Recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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