After barely surviving the Great Storm of 1900, an orphanage boy searches for hope in this debut historical novel.
On Sept. 8, 1900, a hurricane slams into Galveston, Texas, in what is still America’s worst natural disaster. At St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum, the sisters and staff are desperately trying to save 93 children, but only three boys survive: Will Murney, 14; Albert Campbell, 13; and Frank Madera, 12. When the storm subsides, Will and his companions trek toward the hospital, slowed by injuries and a mountain of corpse-strewn wreckage. Stunned survivors wander among the debris, searching for loved ones. As time passes, Galveston begins to pull itself together, distributing food, providing medical aid, and collecting the dead. It takes six weeks to burn all the bodies. Meanwhile, Will struggles to reconcile himself with the tragedy without losing faith: “Although enduring loss was one of life’s most crucial themes, seeking sunlit hope in its wake was also one of its most crucial duties.” In his book, Funderburk hews closely to historic accounts and real figures, bringing them to life with great sensitivity and a fine ear for period-appropriate diction (“Your bean, son, got conked awful good”). While the story is harrowing, it is shot through with striking, well-earned moments of grace and compassion—even humor; a woman doling out food calls it “Don’t Ask Stew.” The storm’s destruction is horrifying, yet Will’s hunt for meaning is luminously described. The larger community comes together in ways sometimes flawed but also beautiful, as when Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, gives a speech: “To watch her mobilize power in the cause of service to the suffering was extraordinary,” thinks Will.
A well-written, deeply moving exploration of finding cause for optimism after a disaster.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 282
Publisher: Koehler Books
Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020