Saturday, July 2, 2011
Earthquake at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory
Photographer Edith Irvine and her assistant, Daisy Valentine have the bad luck to arrive in San Fransisco in 1906 right as one of the most disastrous earthquakes in the United States happens. Separated from Edith's father, the two young women struggle to get by with the rest of the survivors as aftershocks rock the city and fires rage. Edith determines to document the tragedy with pictures, even though taking them could get her shot as martial law reigns in the city.
Note: #1 of the YA Historical Fiction Challenge
This book was disappointing. On the one hand it was excellently researched and posed a first hand account of a natural disaster that I haven't seen much fiction about. On the other hand, there were plot holes, sketchy logic from characters, and several annoying cliches that plague "eyewitness" types of historical fiction sometimes.
The book stands out in the amount of research the author obviously spent looking into the earthquake itself and events surrounding it. There are even pictures from the tragedy in the book. It's interesting to note that looking at them and in reading what went on I was reminded of natural disasters today and how the reaction and handling of them are really not much different. Gregory was able to capture the absurdity of some of the things that happen in a disaster. Unfortunately the plot felt like it was jumping around and skipping from one topic to another when it came to the women, so much so that it was sometimes hard to figure out why they'd left the safety of their camp this time and why they kept wandering around in dangerous areas of the city. There was also the issue that Edith did not seem 22, either in speech or in actions sometimes. She seemed like girlish friends with Daisy, who was only 15, something I assume the author was trying to do because Edith was a real person and working her into a YA novel would involve her being more accessible to younger readers. There was also the lack of logic characters used. Edith's father was revealed to have left San Fransisco under the impression that the girls had gone back home, but then he never goes back to look for them, people keep wandering in areas where fires are for reasons I still can't figure out, characters do irrational things and no one seems to question them. There is also the annoying issue that the book falls into the trap of having the characters meet up with every famous historical figure that may have been through the quake, from Jack London to Enrico Caruso to a Barrymore.
I would have rated the book lower save for the obvious historical research that went into it.