McHugh’s (Death Matters, 2009, etc.) fourth book offers a primary historical record of a small town hit by a violent and deadly tornado.
McHugh describes 1940s Shelburn, Ind., as a quintessential Midwestern town: a population of roughly 1,250 living in a large geographical area. His detailed chronicle of Shelburn’s collective response to a horrific natural disaster drops the reader directly into the struggling community. The author gives a voice to each of those who stepped forward to help their neighbors’ battered spirits and properties. McHugh cites a meteorological record of tornado destruction throughout the United States, which contextualizes the severity of the one Shelburn endured. The author, a 19-year-old ambulance driver at the time of the storm, provides a firsthand account of his neighbors’ suffering and tenacity with the lens of one accustomed to personal tragedy. McHugh smartly allows the emotions of the story to develop organically in the voices of those he interviewed. While the book may serve as a resource for Shelburn’s historical record, as well as a guide to preparing for a tornado, it also encapsulates the fortitude of the residents. Many neighboring communities met Shelburn’s need so abundantly the Red Cross no longer accepted food donations just one day after the storm. McHugh reveals these standout facts to provide a reflection of the community’s heart. While rebuilding the town was a dynamic undertaking, Shelburn’s people did the work without questioning one another’s motives or agendas. In the true Midwestern spirit of working together to build and rebuild, McHugh lets his neighbors and friends tell their stories in their own ways.
An interesting firsthand account of the physical and emotional recovery of a town.