Hi there! And welcome to my stop on the EASTLAND Blog Tour hosted by YA Bound Book Tours. For other stops on the tour, click here. Today’s book is a Historical YA Romance, a fantastic read from my good friend, and fellow SCBWI critique partner, Marian Cheatam.
For hardworking teen, Dee Pageau, the annual employee picnic will let her escape the drudgery of work and possibly find love with her best friend Mae’s older brother, Karel. But in 1915 Chicago, girls don’t go on picnics without their mother’s approval.
Unfortunately for Dee, Mama has had a premonition of disaster and forbids Dee from going. Forced to watch as Mae and Karel leave without her, Dee defies Mama and rushes off to join her friends.
But Dee’s joy soon turns to terror when the ship ferrying them to the picnic capsizes. Rescued not once but twice-by Karel and a mysterious sailor-Dee finds herself tested in unimaginable ways. What happens next turns out to be worse … and better … than anything Dee ever expected.
The SS Eastland capsized in the Chicago River at 7:30am on July 24, 1915 killing 844 passengers. This novel follows the horror of the event and its gruesome aftermath through the eyes of Dee Pageau, a seventeen year-old employee of the Western Electric Company who had hired the steamer to transport workers and their families to Michigan City, Indiana for the company’s annual picnic.
While many stories take the reader to new and exotic worlds, this captivating historical novel recounts the tragedy of the SS Eastland in a way that transports the reader to a world before house phones, a time when ice boxes, streetcars, and milk delivery was the norm.
Dee is aboard the Hurricane (top) Deck of the Eastland, chatting with her best friend Mae’s brother, Karel, when the ship lists, and then capsizes. Mae was trapped belowdecks, and Karel—after ensuring Dee is safely settled on the ship’s hull–dives into the putrid water to find his younger sister.
Hours later, having witnessed more dead bodies than survivors recovered, shock has set in for Dee. Desperate without her childhood friend, she nearly topples into the murky depths, but is rescued (again) by a crewman—Lars.
Dee is whisked off the boat and driven back to the grief-ravaged streets of suburban Cicero—home to Western Electric’s headquarters and many of its employees. Anxious families descend on Dee and her overwrought mother, fearing the worst. Throughout the day the bleak news pours in, household by household. When Karel returns alone, the long hunt begins to track down the missing Mae.
This meticulously researched work provides a rare glimpse into a tragedy that consumed Chicago. Dee and Karol search hospital after hospital only to be ushered ever closer to the makeshift morgue. Days of mourning and wakes, enormous funeral masses presided over by the Bishop soon follow. Through this melancholy, Dee realizes that she must remain strong. Stronger than she ever had to be, before. At times, she is bolstered by Karol and Lars—both men who survived the harrowing ordeal and recognize the need for moving on with life.
In the week following the tragedy, Dee returns to work—finding that only one other woman in her 30-person division had survived. The loss of so many workers propels Dee into a managerial position—but she struggles to get over the loss of so many of her friends.
The development of not one, but two, potential romantic entanglements allows Dee to grow further out of her meek shell. Being a survivor will do that, too.
Dee learns, like Karol and Lars, to appreciate the best things in life. Despite the gruesome event and realistic setting, the hopeful ending and clear promise of love will resonate for young and old alike. I loved this book and recommend it to all fans of romance, historical fiction and YA romance. It gave me chills, and I gasped aloud so many times I lost count. Throughout the read I was simply captivated.
About the Author:
Marian Cheatham lives in a suburb of Chicago with her family and their menagerie of pets. A graduate of Northern Illinois University, Marian taught Special Education for many years before becoming a full-time writer.
On a personal note I have known Marian for four years–she’s a fellow member of my SCBWI Illinois chapter, a good friend, and a writing critique partner. I just love her historical YA. EASTLAND is a fantastic novelization of Chicago’s biggest loss-of-life tragedies.
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