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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Children's Blizzard Devastating, Deeply Impactful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In the late 19th Century, the Great Plains region of the United States was inhabited mostly by European immigrants lured to the area by exaggerated claims of lush, fertile land free for the taking.  In reality, living on the desolate prairie was tough.  The land was unyielding, the weather was harsh, and surviving it all was a daily struggle.  Far from the Garden of Eden promised to unsuspecting settlers, it was more like Hell on Earth.  Just as a new year, 1888, dawned, a number of unfortunate circumstances—including immigrants' ignorance of the fickleness and ferocity of winter weather on the Great Plains—combined to create a devastating tragedy known today as The Children's Blizzard.  

After a bitter cold spell on the plains, January 12 was a welcome gift.  The day brought unusually warm temperatures, prompting delighted homesteaders all over the region to shuck off their heavy winter gear and flock outside to handle chores and errands that had been put off because of inclement weather.  To everyone's shock, the pleasant day turned suddenly savage when a blizzard whipped in out of nowhere bringing freezing temperatures, blinding snow, and a chilling wind.  Because the storm descended just as schoolchildren were being dismissed for the day, dozens of kids became stranded in the melee, some freezing to death almost instantly.  Whiteout conditions meant many perished only yards away from safety.  Over 200 people, as well as countless animals, were killed that day, making the storm one of the deadliest in America's history.

Melanie Benjamin's newest novel, which tells the story of the devastating storm, will be published on January 12, 2021, the 133rd anniversary of the tragic event.  The Children's Blizzard focuses on three teenage girls, two of whom are schoolteachers.  All three of them make different choices on that fateful day.  Afterward, one will be lauded as a hero, one will be shunned by her community, and one will become a reluctant celebrity.  Every one of them will be forever changed by what transpires when a surprise storm ravages their lives.  

Although the trio of girls at the center of The Children's Blizzard are all fictional, their experiences are composites of what real people went through on January 12, 1888.  Thus, the tales are intimate, shocking, and heart-wrenching.  Benjamin's expert storytelling definitely brings the tragedy to vivid life, creating a moving and memorable tale that will stick with you long after you close the book.  While I found the novel gripping in many ways, I would have liked fewer narrators telling the story so that I could feel more connected to the main characters.  Not all of them are likable, but they're all complex, interesting, and authentic.  Plotwise, the novel loses most of its steam after the storm ends.  It seems to have nowhere to go at that point, which makes the story feel unfinished.  Despite these small irritants, all in all, I found The Children's Blizzard engrossing and enlightening.  It's a devastating book, but one that makes a definite impact.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Children's Blizzard from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!


  1. I have The Children's Blizzard to read next month, I hope. Sorry it wasn't better for you.

  2. I still think about this one sometimes. Never would have even heard of the book if you hadn't mentioned it in an earlier post to your blog. And THAT'S why I love book blogs.

  3. I was sucked in with your description of the book. It sounds really good! I had never heard of this tragedy before.

  4. This is one I really want to read!

  5. I had not heard of this story but it sounds like one I would really like. I enjoy historical fiction that is based on real events. Wonderful review Susan.

  6. I have the David Laskin book that you linked as a readalike on my wishlist, but I think I'll add this book too - so thanks for highlighting.


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