The Woman in the Photo

Written by Mary Hogan
Review by Arleigh Johnson

The devastating Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889 is the historical event depicted in this highly readable, dual-voice novel. It’s narrated by a modern-day young woman who is searching for clues to her past, and a late 19th-century debutante who is feeling the restrictions of her place in society. As the story progresses, the women’s lives intertwine.

In present-day California, upon her 18th birthday, Lee Parker, who was adopted as a baby, is finally able to begin the search for her birth parents. With only a slight bit of information and an old photograph, she has little to go on except a connection with Red Cross founder Clara Barton. Though she feels guilty for showing so much interest in her birth family, she heads to the library in hopes of piecing together the few clues that were offered in her closed adoption file.

Meanwhile, the story of the woman in the photo, Elizabeth Haberlin, is told in her own voice. She was a privileged daughter of a doctor and member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Haughty and self-assured, she began angling for the catch of the season—the son of an affluent British family—though she admittedly held in higher regard a working-class boy from Johnstown, who had warned her of the precarious position of the dam. When the dreaded event came to pass, Elizabeth found her life’s purpose in the disaster and was determined to make up for the misery and death the members of the club had wreaked.

This is a fascinating story about family dynamics, class division, and the courage of two women facing life-changing dilemmas over a century apart. The historical aspects are suitably accurate and detailed, while the modern portion is fast-paced enough to hold interest. It has great potential as book club favorite.