Thursday, January 21, 2021

"The Children's Blizzard"

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her 2019 novel, Mistress of the Ritz, is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war. Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age.

Benjamin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Children's Blizzard, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Children's Blizzard is in the middle of a gripping scene. The deadly blizzard has just hit, and a young schoolteacher, Raina Olsen, is in the middle of deciding what to do with her schoolchildren: Should they remain in the uninsulated schoolhouse hoping for rescue or should they try to get to a nearby homestead in the middle of this terrifying storm? As she’s been trying to keep the children calm, two of her pupils have left on their own. The brother of one of them is a fifteen-year-old named Tor; he’s only a year younger than Raina and she knows she needs him to help her keep the other children alive, no matter what she decides. In this scene, Tor is about to go after his brother, but Raina is pleading with him to stay with her and the other children. Tor grows up in a moment in this scene, when he has to make a gut-wrenching decision.

Does this page pass the page 69 test? Yes, it does. Many of the themes of the book can be found in this one page.

The blizzard itself is of course the main plot of my novel, and on this page we’re already seeing characters—ordinary people, young people, schoolteachers and their pupils—finding themselves in extraordinary conditions. The blizzard is literally pounding on the windows and shaking the walls of the schoolhouse while Raina and Tor, two children of immigrants, two children tied to the land because of the decisions of their parents, deal with the worst ramifications of those decisions. The land asked too much of the immigrants who came to homestead it (at the cost of those whose land it had been in the first place), but it particularly asked too much of their children who had no choice in the matter and who often paid the highest price. And the relationship between Raina and Tor, growing from student and pupil to equals, allied together to get these children to safety while each dealing with their own wrenching personal grief, is central to the novel, and begins on this page.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Picture.

--Marshal Zeringue