Debut author Rankin breathes life into the story of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Nothing has been going right for white 11-year-old Elizabeth “Littlebeth” Morgan. She’d rather read dime novels than be “a proper, refined young lady.” After an incident involving a rattlesnake proves to be the last straw for her parents, she is shipped off to her aunt in San Francisco, a change that they hope will “take the sass out of that lass.” Shortly after narrator Littlebeth arrives, San Francisco is hit by the catastrophic earthquake of 1906, throwing the city and her life into utter chaos. Although Beth (she renames herself in San Francisco) ultimately returns home relatively unscathed, Rankin does not hesitate to show (forgoing gruesome details) that not everyone, including her protagonist’s aunt, is so lucky. An intriguing cast of secondary characters—including her Presbyterian aunt’s Jewish beau, the opera star Enrico Caruso, and a newly immigrated young Chinese girl—adds diversity. Each chapter header states Beth’s location and the date, and readers with knowledge of the impending disaster will find an increased sense of anticipation as the day of the earthquake looms closer. The occasional blatant foreshadowing (“I’m afraid we’re tossing her out of the frying pan and into the—”) and the frequent lack of initial pronoun use in the narration feel self-conscious.
Readers are sure to overlook craft flaws as they fall in love with spunky Beth. (Historical fiction. 9-12)