As the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918 in Toronto reaches epidemic proportion, the local newspapers run lengthy lists of “yesterday’s dead,” a chilling backdrop to 13-year-old maidservant Meredith’s personal struggle as the disease ravages the household where she works.
Impoverished, Meredith had to lie about her age in order to be hired by the Watertons. While the friendly cook and kind chauffeur immediately reach out to her, the butler, Parker, who rules the household, is rude and critical. Tasked not only with helping in the kitchen but also with watching the motherless youngest child in the family, lively 6-year-old Harry, Meredith mostly manages, struggling only with the middle daughter, severely spoiled Maggie. As the disease begins to overwhelm the city, Dr. Waterton is called away, leaving Parker and the eldest son, Jack (to whom Meredith feels a certain attraction) in charge. Then family and staff begin to fall ill, and responsibility finally shifts almost solely to Meredith. While largely predictable, and peopled with stock characters (albeit engaging ones), the strong sense of place and time and the vivid peril of the deadly disease keep the plot rushing believably forward. Meredith’s very human fluctuations between despair and determination in the face of tragedy add considerably to the authenticity of her character.
A gripping depiction of a tragic epidemic and the sometimes heroic responses of those affected. (Historical fiction. 10-15)