From the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife comes a story of courage on the prairie, inspired by the devastating storm that struck the Great Plains in 1888, threatening the lives of hundreds of immigrant homesteaders, especially schoolchildren.
“Melanie Benjamin never fails to create compelling, unforgettable characters and place them against the backdrop of startling history.”—Lisa Wingate, author of The Book of Lost Friends
The morning of January 12, 1888, was unusually mild, following a punishing cold spell. It was warm enough for the homesteaders of the Dakota Territory to venture out again, and for their children to return to school without their heavy coats—leaving them unprepared when disaster struck. At the hour when most prairie schools were letting out for the day, a terrifying, fast-moving blizzard blew in without warning. Schoolteachers as young as sixteen were suddenly faced with life and death decisions: Keep the children inside, to risk freezing to death when fuel ran out, or send them home, praying they wouldn’t get lost in the storm?
Based on actual oral histories of survivors, this gripping novel follows the stories of Raina and Gerda Olsen, two sisters, both schoolteachers—one becomes a hero of the storm and the other finds herself ostracized in the aftermath. It’s also the story of Anette Pedersen, a servant girl whose miraculous survival serves as a turning point in her life and touches the heart of Gavin Woodson, a newspaperman seeking redemption. It was Woodson and others like him who wrote the embellished news stories that lured northern European immigrants across the sea to settle a pitiless land. Boosters needed them to settle territories into states, and they didn’t care what lies they told these families to get them there—or whose land it originally was.
At its heart, this is a story of courage, of children forced to grow up too soon, tied to the land because of their parents’ choices. It is a story of love taking root in the hard prairie ground, and of families being torn asunder by a ferocious storm that is little remembered today—because so many of its victims were immigrants to this country.
I’m afraid “historical fiction” is going to be the death of me. It’s one of the saddest genres there is. All the things that have happened in our history. All the horrible things that people endured. Even in the earliest of times there was so much prejudice and hate. This story is set in 1888 and is about a blizzard that hits so unexpected and so sudden that many did not survive. So many children were lost. But so many were saved also. This is a story of one such blizzard that hits while some young teachers were present with their students. Teachers of only 16-18 years of age. Just children theirselves.
Minna, Ingrid, Johnny, Johannes, Karl, Walter, Sebastian, Lydia. These names will come to mean something to you when you read this book. They will wiggle into your heart and stay there for a long while. They did for the rest of Gerda’s life. Gerda was these young children’s teacher. They depended on her.
How do you grow old on the prairie? This question will also hit you. And hit you hard. So much happens on the prairie. So many hardships. So much loss. People aged way to quickly back then. From the hard work and the many losses.
This is the story of two sisters. Both school teachers. Both very young for such a serious job. When the storm hits one makes a wrong decision. One makes the right one. But both live with the consequences of their actions. Guilt hits them both. For very different reasons.
Gerda and Raina are sisters. They grow up on the prairie. Or as grown as you can get living this hard life. Both are teachers. In different areas but not so far away from each other. Not so far that the blizzard does not hit both. These sisters are so close and love each other so much. You will get to know each and form an opinion of each. I found it hard to like one at first but she did finally melt my heart. She finally made me understand her decision. And yes she was just a young teen who made a wrong choice.
This is a very heartbreaking story and one that I had no idea about until now. I never knew about the awful blizzard that happened. That took so much life. I never knew it could be so horrible and deadly. That cows and horses actually could freeze to death in the fields. That humans would actually die. Frozen to death. What a horrible way to die. This book describes things in such a way that you feel the pain. The horrible pain of children huddled together. You wonder what went on in their little minds during such a horrific time. Not being able to do anything to stop the certain death that they faced. Or even the grownups that went through this. Or were left behind to face the loss of many children in one family. Who do you blame? Blame didn’t change a thing yet I fully understand that a parent would have to blame someone.
This story is so realistic that you feel the bone chilling cold. The freezing ice pelting against your skin. The agony of waking up and realizing that you lost a part of you. Or that you lost a child. Or a spouse. This author did a fantastic job of making the reader feel. Honestly deep down feel these things.
There is prejudice in this story also. Treating people as less than human. The way the indians were treated. The way the black people were treated. Even way back in the 1800’s there was so much prejudice against black people. They dreamed of a better life. Indians were treated as less than human. Being so abused. The children in the Indian schools were abused, molested, treated so unfairly. This is so awful to think about, but also it was real. It happened. I hope someday that prejudice will be history. That we as humans can stop. Stop the hate and violence.
This book is so full of emotions. I cried so many deep heart wrenching tears. It is one that you won’t be able to read without many tears. It’s that realistically written. You feel the pain!
Thank you #NetGalley, #melaniebenjamin, #randomhousepublishing, for this ARC. This is my own true feelings about this book.
5/5 stars from me. It seemed like it was starting out slow but after reading it I fully understand what the first few chapters were about and why they were there. This is truly a magnificent historical fiction book. I highly recommend this book. And you have to read more than 20% to be able to say it’s no good. Just food for thought here.