“If all the adults are all sick, who’s in charge?”
This is the tag-line for an absorbing children’s novel by Canadian author Pat Bourke.It is set in Toronto in 1918 just as the first world war is ending and the deadly Spanish Flu hits the city. The first half depicts the challenges faced by Meredith, a 13 year old girl who left school in order to take a position as a maid in a manor in Rosedale. She must support her family after her father is killed oversees. Meredith’s tale is historically accurate in nature and her bravery comes from being determined to do her best despite difficult circumstances like a condescending butler, rude children and work that doesn’t end. The second half of the novel tells the gripping story about what happens when the flu comes to the household and the adults and children start to succumb. The father is a doctor quarantined at the hospital when the cook, the young boy, the butler and finally, the young man of the house, all take ill and suffer varying degrees of delirium and distress. No one is allowed in or out of the house so Meredith must wrestle with the responsibility of making life or death decisions. Before it died out, the Spanish flu killed an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 persons across Canada. The author is able to vividly describe what such an outbreak would have been like, down to including details like some of the bizarre folk remedies and “cures”. It is by no means a grim book as there is humour, character growth and redemption in this novel as well. The author’s obvious research and vividly rendered characters and scenes bring this historical novel to life for children and youth.
Angela Meady is the Head of Children’s & Youth Services at the Thunder Bay Public Library
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