cover image The Children’s Blizzard

The Children’s Blizzard

Melanie Benjamin. Delacorte, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-18228-0

Benjamin (Mistress of the Ritz) revisits the Children’s Blizzard that killed 235 people in January 1888 in this sprawling, well-told story. As the children from two Great Plains schools prepare to leave at the end of an unusually mild winter day, Benjamin focuses on the different choices made by their teachers—first-generation Norwegian American sisters Gerda and Raina Olsen, a three-day ride apart from each other across the Nebraska-Dakota border —while the storm approaches with dark clouds and strong winds. Gerda, teaching in Dakota Territory, rashly dismisses her students so she can see her would-be beau, while Raina, in Nebraska, chooses to keep her small class together. Meanwhile, jaded newspaperman Gavin Woodson is torn between opportunism—he knows he’s found a great story that can punch his ticket back to N.Y.C.—and romanticism, as Gavin, and his readers, grow entranced by the stories of the blizzard’s unlikely heroes and heroines, such as one of Raina’s students who tries to save his classmate. The narrative revolves largely around northern European settlers to the region, and the attempts to incorporate the experiences of Sioux people feel somewhat forced. Nevertheless, there’s great suspense inherent to the events. Benjamin achieves a balance of grand drama and devastatingly intimate moments. (Jan.)