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The book introduced me to an era and way of life I know little about. Homesteading in western states of the US at the end of the 19th century Railways had spent a lot of money putting in lines and stations but the population was so small, they weren't breaking even. To help, the government issued enthusiastic propaganda about the joys of homesteading. Unfortunately, the land was not good and crops fell prey to droughts, extreme heat, locusts etc. Also gives a clear picture of the one room schools, under the leadership of teenage girls.
I love History, and in reading Historical Fiction books I try to cover as much ground as possible. Nothing is too remote for me: WWII Greece, ninth century Ireland, eighteenth century Russia... I pre ordered this book with the desire to learn about a new subject. I don't know much about Scandinavian immigrants to the American West and never heard about the Children's Blizzard. I'm Clearly in the minority here, but I didn't finish this book. I stopped at 20% (P.63) as the reading became a chore. So, why do I review it? A person is entitled to his opinion if he paid 13.99 USD for the pleasure. My issues with the book were: 1. Lack of sequence - The book starts with the description of prairie fires at one point, then jumps to the day of the blizzard as the events progressed with one group of characters then on to another character long before the blizzard. 2. Anti-climax- Describing one of the characters dealing with the blizzard in the first 30 pages of the book was anti climatic for me. In order to put events in perspective there should have been a clear introduction of the characters. There should have been a build up to the main event, which is the blizzard. Instead, with no explanation, the main plot line, has no significance. 3. Too many characters introduced- I felt that the author tried to include as many people as possible in the story and none of them resonated with me. I feel cheated because I wasted 5 days trying to get into the book and not to abandon it (I don't like to "DNF" a book), However, I got no reward and felt the need to share with other potential readers.
The first half of this wonderful book was hard to read . Sadness and fear and overwhelmingly frightening, I almost put it down but I am so glad I finished it! It is so much a story of the triumph of women in a man’s world, of the contribution of immigration though created by lies. I am sure to revisit this author!
This historical fiction novel is based on an actual event and I very quickly discovered which characters were my favorite. Along with the obvious protagonists, I thought that the storyline of Mrs. Pedersen and how her character's story arc intertwined with other main characters really added to the story.
The only disappointment with the ending was the epilogue didn't cover the character I most wanted to know about years later. I guess it is left up to the reader's imagination.
I have enjoyed several of Melanie Benjamin's historical novels, including Alice I Have Been, The Aviator's Wife and The Girls in the Picture. This title caught my eye because it reminded me of The Long Winter, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which also included a blinding blizzard. I like how the author used many characters to keep my interest and to emphasis the effects of the storm. There are a few reasons why I gave this 4 stars, but I hesitate to be specific in order to avoid spoilers. This novel definitely was absorbing, due to its structure, and although there are many dark places I recommend it to fans of the author and American historical novels.
Verdict: A well-written piece of historical fiction that most readers will enjoy. It does a great job of immersing the reader in middle America (the Great Plains) with immigrant homesteaders during and following the blizzard of 1888. There were some pacing and plot issues for me but not enough to not recommend this book.
What’s it about? Out on the “godforesaken” plains, two young school teachers are about to dismiss their students for the day when a “terrifying” blizzard arrives without warning. The children are without their heavy coats due to the unusually mild conditions earlier in the day, and the school house is a good distance from their homes. Who wouldn’t want to know what happens next?
The story is mostly about Raina and Gerda Olsen, two teenage sisters, who are school teachers in different parts of the Dakota and Nebraska territories. Both are boarding with other homesteaders in order to have a job as a teacher. The book begins quickly with both having to make life and death decisions for themselves and their students when the surprise blizzard arrives. Should they keep the children inside the drafty and poorly constructed one room school houses with the chance of running low on wood for their stoves and freezing to death – or should they send the children home, hoping they won’t get lost in the white-out conditions. The decisions at this moment will impact the survivors for the rest of their lives.
Alas, this is also the story of 11-year-old Anette Pedersen, a servant girl, sold by her parents to an uncaring family (who also board Raina, one of the teachers). We follow Anette in her miraculous journey through the blizzard and in its aftermath. Her story is probably the most heart-wrenching in the novel.
And it is also the story of Gavin Woodson, a newspaperman from back East who spent the last few years writing highly embellished stories for state boosters and railroads interests to lure northern European immigrants to the “Garden of Eden,” the Nebraska Territory. His is a story of redemption for helping to bring these settlers to a “pitiless land,” and young Anette becomes his vehicle for that redemption.
The book is based on a real event and oral histories of survivors. The original storm was called the Schoolhouse Blizzard or the Children’s Blizzard because so many either perished or suffered great injury.
The Story (plot and character): The majority of the story is told in third person from various POVs including the teachers Raina and Gerda, newspaperman Gavin Woodson, and the very young servant girl Anette Pedersen.
The book starts off with a bang. After a few introductory chapters to set the stage and introduce the characters, the blizzard arrives in the book almost as it is described in real life – a fast, early surprise for the reader! And the plot and pace race through the blizzard as the characters make tough decisions, suffer greatly, and directly face the blizzard’s peril. The author does an excellent job of allowing the reader to see the world through these characters. Their emotions, actions and reactions, and the impact of the social and physical environment on their lives are well done. The characters are brilliantly developed with all the warts and beauty of what you see in real life. The fathers are not all heroes, the mothers are not the protectors of all, and the children have more than simple minds.
But then there is the second half of the book. How do you sustain such a story in the aftermath? In a typical tale, we’d build up to the blizzard, and it would likely be the climax. Yet much of this story occurs in the aftermath. We obviously want to know what happens to these main characters (and others). Yet the book almost seems like two stories: the fast-paced, blizzard followed by a drawn-out this-is-what-happened-to-these-folks story. The first half occurs mostly in a matter of hours (days if you include some of the first few introductory chapters) while the second half occurs over years. That cut into my rating a bit but it’s not a huge issue.
What’s good about the book? The writing is wonderful – her style of fictional prose seems just right, balancing the plainness of the language and environment of the day with descriptive narrative that places you in the story. In short, it’s not too plain and not too flowery.
The setting and plot are nicely woven together. Though the story is historical fiction, the author succeeds in her own stated desire to tell the story behind the story. There’s just enough historical background to help the reader learn about the period and the associated challenges while keeping to the heart of the story. And a blizzard in the heart of America in the 1800s is of great personal interest to me.
Characters are well developed, and such as in real life, have all the flaws and goodness we readers can identify with. Though I didn’t closely identify with any one particular character, I think some readers will.
What was not so good? As stated above, it felt like two books in one. There were also a few places in the second half of the book where the plot lagged or jumped around a bit. Some readers have stated that the number of characters was an issue; it was not for me.
There were also a few spots where the characters seem to act out of period, like they had today’s beliefs and culture. Still not real bothersome….it IS fiction.
Bottom line: This is a good read. It gives the reader the fictional opportunity of experiencing the tough life of the homesteaders of the 1880s while throwing in a blizzard to boot. I recommend it.
I had no knowledge of this historical event and reading it during a huge winter snow fall in Texas with the suffering it brought, even in modern times, was especially touching. I don’t think the writing was especially distinguished; however, I liked that the sisters, Raina and Gerda, did not end up as I thought they would. The author touched on differences between city and country life, between life on the prairie for men and women, and especially about the choices one makes in life: selfish or charitable, and how one choice forever changes life. Mrs Peterson, and her husband, too, surprised me, as did Annette and Tor. Each dealing with life forever changed by the Children’s Blizzard.
This book is mesmerizing. It weaves together several different stories about the blizzard of 1888. It Highlighted historical facts like how young the school teachers were who had to make life and death decisions and also about the treatment of the blizzard in the newspapers. The life of settlers in the northern great Plains were very very tough. I would recommend this book to everyone.
I enjoyed this book, in a very disturbing way. It's been a few weeks since I completed reading The Children's Blizzard and I can still "see" images in my mind about many of the scenes. The author develops her characters so well and illustrates with words the characters, the scenery, and the development of this story. I highly recommend this reading to anyone who wants to learn a bit about America's history (through historical fiction) and the power/strength of the American spirit.