Friday, April 20, 2012

Yesterday's Dead

Yesterday's Dead by Pat Bourke is a middle grade novel set in Toronto in 1918.  Meredith Hollings is a 13-year-old girl who must leave her small hometown of Port Stuart to become a maid for a doctor's family in Toronto.  Her father left and was killed in the war, and their family's store isn't bringing in quite enough.  She regrets having to leave school, since she dreamed of becoming a teacher someday (and who will hire a teacher who didn't even go to high school?).

Meredith decides, however, that her time in Toronto will be an adventure, and she may just get a little more than she bargained for with that.  The rest of the household staff are mostly pleasant - kind Mrs Butters runs the kitchen and helps her to feel more at home; Forrest, the chauffeur and sort of jack-of-all-trades for the house; Mrs O'Hagan, who doesn't live in the house, but comes to clean and do the laundry.  Mrs O'Hagan's son, Tommy, is also very nice, and he offers to show Meredith around the city on her day off.  Parker, the butler, on the other hand, is not very pleasant at all.  He seems to find fault with everything Meredith does, and is generally a grouch.

The members of Doctor Waterton's family are perhaps a different story altogether, apart from the doctor himself.  The eldest, fifteen-year-old Jack, is a flirt who teases Meredith every time he sees her; Maggie, who is Meredith's age, is a brat with airs of entitlement; the youngest, Harry, is a handful - he's always getting into something, mainly the sugar.

Despite some of the difficulties, Meredith is doing her best and doing a pretty good job, but when the Spanish influenza sweeps through Toronto, it doesn't skip the doctor's house.  Meredith has her work cut out for her trying to get all the regular housework done while also taking care of the members of the household who have fallen victim to the flu.  The doctor is detained for days at the hospital as waves of people are brought in, and he's ordered them all to quarantine themselves inside the house - no one goes in, no one leaves - to try and keep anything from spreading even further.  He doesn't know, however, that nearly everyone in the house is now ill, and Meredith is running the place nearly on her own.  People around the city are dying every day - will she be able to maintain everything in the house until Dr Waterton gets back?  She's been relatively lucky so far, but with all their lives in Meredith's hands, what will happen if she also falls ill?

I got this ARC of Yesterday's Dead through the Goodreads First Reads giveaways program; it was actually released earlier this week, so keep an eye out for this one on the shelves at your local or online bookseller!  I enjoyed reading it; it reminds me a lot of other middle grade historical fiction I've liked, such as the American Girl and Dear America series, or the Katy books by Susan Coolidge.  I don't recall having read much of anything set in Canada, except I believe for Anne of Green Gables, so this was a nice change of pace from some other settings I'm more familiar with.  The characters were light and mostly likable, and some of them really start to develop while struggling through the pandemic.  For an adult reading the book, the changes in some of the characters aren't perhaps unexpected, but for the target reader base, it might be.  

I finished this book in one night, and again, I definitely liked it.  The only other book I really remember reading that mentions the Spanish Influenza was Twilight, when Edward explains to Bella about the end of his human life.  Bourke gives us a lot more to go on, as far as better understanding the extent of what this illness meant for the people in the midst of the outbreak.  I've had the flu before, but this sounds a bit more awful, I think.  I think I would have really enjoyed this book if I'd read it when I was younger, as well; I've always liked historical fiction, and with Meredith's story, Bourke covers a topic that isn't touched on as much for the main plot in a novel, so that's always welcome, I think.



Second Story Press

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