Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown

Written by Ann E. Burg
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

Flooded is a novel of first-person, free-verse poems told in three parts. In part one, readers meet some residents of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889 (mostly children and young adults) who describe their daily lives, their friends and families, their dreams and fears. In part two, the dam above Johnstown breaks, and these, and other, residents describe the horrors of the disaster. In part three, the survivors, the dead, their loved ones, those who arrived to help the survivors and find the victims, and those responsible for the disaster, all narrate. Winding through these poems, the river tells its own story in beautifully lyrical poetry.

This is an amazing novel. Burg’s poetry is gorgeous and bleak, moving and frozen. In the beginning, she gets readers to care about every one of the many narrators. Readers know the dam will break, and people will die, but the readers don’t know who will survive. The suspense and its answers bite like the cold floodwaters. Burg’s historical notes explain which characters were real, as well as the story’s intersection of imagination and history. Scholastic states the novel is for third to seventh grades, but I recommend it for middle to high school students. Flooded isn’t inappropriate for younger readers but they may struggle following the many, and sometimes unusual, narrators. Older readers will better understand the narrators, the lost dreams, and the trial, as well as make connections to life, labor and politics today. Highly recommended.