Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Johnstown Girls

Book 38 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I received this book from NetGalley and would like to thank the author and University of Pittsburgh Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

The Johnstown Girls by Kathleen George

Summary (via Goodreads)
Ellen Emerson may be the last living survivor of the Johnstown flood.  She was only 4 years old on May 31, 1889, when twenty million tons of water decimated her hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Thousands perished in what was the worst natural disaster in U.S. history at the time.  As we witness in The Johnstown Girls, the flood not only changed the course of history, but also the individual lives of those who survived it.
A century later, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters Ben Bragdon and Nina Collins set out to interview 103-year-old Ellen for Ben's feature article on the flood.  When asked the secret to her longevity, Ellen simply attributes it to "restlessness".  As we see, that restlessness is fueled by Ellen's innate belief that her twin sister Mary, who went missing in the flood, is somehow still alive.  Her story intrigues Ben, but it haunts Nina, who is determined to help Ellen find her missing half.
Novelist Kathleen George masterfully blends a history of the Johnstown flood into her heartrending tale of twin sister who have never known the truth about that fateful day in 1889 - a day that would send their lives hurtling down different paths.  The Johnstown Girls is a remarkable story of perseverance, hard work, and never giving up hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  It's also a tribute to the determination and indomitable spirit of the people of Johnstown through one hundred years, three generations, and three different floods.

My Opinion
I wasn't familiar with this historical event at all, which is surprising given the number of people that died in the flood.  The photos included in the text were very affecting, especially the one of 6 children (siblings) with the caption that all 6 perished in the flood.  

From the description and the 'historical fiction' label on Goodreads, I expected a book about the flood.  Instead, it felt like the focal point was the relationship between Ben and Nina as they just happened to work on an article about the flood.  Along those same lines, I didn't like their relationship.  There were too many issues going on (they work together, Ben's married, Nina meets another man).  Also, a small point in the book but something that really bugged me - a marriage counselor recommending Ben alternate weeks between his wife and Nina because he "needed experiences of both to make a decision" (um, isn't that what he's been doing during the whole affair?) and everyone agrees to it?  C'mon.  No.

In my opinion this read started strong, was mediocre in the middle, and fell flat with an implausible and abrupt resolution.  Overall, I didn't enjoy this book.

  Quote from the Book
**Note: I read an uncorrected proof of this book and the following quote may have been altered in the final copy.
"She was strong, the reverse way; she was the type to cave in, to fall with the punches but the trick is, if you know your boxing, that can lessen the blow."

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