Between 1918 and 1919, the Spanish flu killed up to 100 million people. The flu first rose near Boston, and as it raged through the city, people were told to nurse their sick at home because the hospitals were overwhelmed. Toronto watched as the flu ravaged Boston, then Montreal. The virus was on its way.
However, thirteen-year-old Meredith is preoccupied with her own problems. Though she dreams of becoming a teacher, the girl is working as a servant for Doctor Waterton and his motherless family. She assists the cook and butler, and minds Harry, the youngest son, who is as mischievous a lad as any who ever stole from the sugar bowl. Imperious Maggie is a few years older than Meredith, and is a demanding mistress. Fortunately, the new maid finds a friend in Maggie’s fifteen-year-old brother, Jack.
Then the flu strikes Toronto. Dr. Waterton goes to the hospital to tend the first patients, but never comes home. He sends word that he cannot be spared – not even when young Harry takes ill. Then the cook collapses, followed by the butler. The Waterton house is virtually cut off from the world. Meredith turns inexperienced hands to nursing and seeks Jack and Maggie’s help in saving the sick.
Pat Bourke’s debut YA historical novel Yesterday’s Dead plunges us into the desperate straits of families caught up in the epidemic. Bourke also explores the everyday struggles of working girls like Meredith. The epidemic tests Meredith’s resolve, and also her ability to forge bonds with her reluctant helpers. Younger teenage girls should particularly enjoy Meredith’s story and her ultimate triumph over adversity that most of us can only imagine.