Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is known for her novels written in verse. Her poem/novel, Out of the Dust, won the Newbery in 1998 (?). I was a little intrigued to find this one written in prose so I decided to give it a try. Hannah is a Jewish girl who lives in Boston in 1918. During that year a terrible flu epidemic hit Boston and in the story people are dying all around Hannah. When her sisters and the aunt that takes care of them get the flu, her aunt tells Hannah to flee the city and save herself. Hannah boards a train, intending to go to a relative's house, but instead she is stricken with the flu and becomes delirious. She is taken to a charity hospital where she meets a wonderful older German man who takes care of her for a while. It is a beautifully written story. The prose has much of poetry in it. The relationship between Hannah and the old man is so sweet. The descriptions of the fear and tragedy caused by the epidemic are vivid but not overpoweringly depressing.

I was listening to this one on my MP3 player during the same period of time I was reading the Princess of the Midnight Ball (see below). I decided that one difference between children's realistic fiction and children's fantasy is that in the fantasy you are almost always ensured a happy ending. I was never in doubt that the Princesses would be saved in the end. In this book I really had no idea how it would end. The writer could have gone either way. Would Hannah discover her sisters had died and decide to stay with the nice old man, or would she return to Boston and find her sisters alive and well? There are no guaranteed happy endings in historical fiction.

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