The background for this book is the capsizing of the steamer SS Eastland in the docks at Chicago on July 24, 1915. The ship had just taken on passengers to be ferried to the Western Electric Employee Picnic, and resulted with the loss of 844 lives. This story is much more than simply a recitation of the tragic events of that day, however; it follows the aftermath of the tragedy on those left behind, told mainly through the viewpoint of 17-year-old survivor Dehlia Pageau. In may ways this is a sad story, filled with fear and panic and grief, struggles for survival, regrets, and survivor guilt, visits to hospitals and morgues, wakes, funerals, a return to hundreds of empty work desks and departments, and the hiring of new employees, many of them grieving relatives of employees killed in the capsizing.
At the same time, it is also very much an uplifting story, of a community and company coming together, of new beginnings, self-growth, and of hope for the future, with a bit of a love story thrown in as well. The balance between bleakness and hope just exactly right. The characterization is spot-on, as are the period details such as dress and music, and the dialogue was completely realistic and period-appropriate. In addition, the book’s presentation is pleasing. The cover photo draws you in and convinces you to open the book to find out more about the women with the blanket around her shoulders. Highly recommended.