Readers who think that the Titanic was the only great ocean liner that ever sank will find this fictionalized eyewitness account of the torpedoed Lusitania’s last voyage a revelation.
If, that is, they can get through the narrative without foundering on the nearly continual foreshadowing that clogs its pages. Naming her title character and other cast members after actual passengers, Wishinsky trots 12-year-old Avis over several days through a purposeful ship’s tour that takes her from bustling galley to common areas of all three classes. She is squired by Prof. Holbourn, a genial fellow traveler who regales her with a magical tale of a young castaway facing a giant and a “bogeyman.” This nested story is related by Dawson in interspersed sections of wordless sequential panels. Along the way, Wishinsky shovels in ominous references to U-boats, an angry refusal by the ship’s captain to hold lifeboat drills, the disappearance of the ship’s cat and so many other hints of impending catastrophe that the torpedoes’ eventual arrival comes as more of a relief than a shock. Dawson’s high-contrast black-and-white scenes add a little suspense, but their plotline is at best marginally relevant to the main one, and they are so cramped and cropped that the action in them is hard to follow. The author closes with a note on the real Avis and Prof. Holbourn.
Arty illustrations and a turgid, purpose-driven narrative waste this opportunity to highlight a major tragedy in its centennial year. Interested readers will get more from Diana Preston’s Remember the Lusitania! (2003). (afterword) (Historical fiction. 9-11)