The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004 Page: 499
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Lisa Waller Rogers writes historical fiction for young readers, and her latest
book, The Great Storm: The Hurricane Diary of J. T. King, is an exciting story narrat-
ed by a fourteen-year old boy who survived Galveston's 1900 storm. Rogers has
won praise for earlier fictional works for young people that dramatize nine-
teenth-century Texas events, including the Alamo and the Chisholm Trail. In
selecting Galveston's hurricane as the subject of this addition to her Lone Star
Journal series, Rogers chose an event rich in drama, and she has written an
action-packed narrative that will appeal to students. Rogers has done consider-
able historical research, and she incorporates anecdotes that capture the flavor
of the Texas seaport a century ago and reveal the fascinating ways in which
Galvestonians responded to this terrible disaster.
Rogers creates a fictional protagonist named J. T. King, a lively teenage
boy in the mold of Tom Sawyer, and his diary before the storm describes
everyday life in Galveston in rich detail. In the opening scene King rescues a
friend from a shark, and his colorful adventures include swimming and fish-
ing trips and visits with a salty old sea captain. But when the hurricane
strikes, the hero and the people he cares about are thrown into mortal dan-
ger. The narrative shifts from lighthearted fun to a life-and-death struggle
against the ferocious storm, and the book's center is a gripping account of
King's efforts to save his loved ones from death. He emerges from the hurri-
cane as a courageous young man who has proved his worth, and he helps
rebuild his shattered community.
Students will enjoy this compelling story, and, drawn in by the drama, they will
be immersed in the historical past that Rogers has recreated. The plot may
appeal to boys more than girls, however, because the female characters are very
passive, even though Galveston's documents reveal many brave women. The
author bases her accurate retelling of the hurricane on extensive research, and
she weaves many true stories into the narrative. These interesting anecdotes
include the facts that several babies were born during the storm, and that many
islanders stopped eating seafood because their loved ones were buried at sea.
The graphic realism Rogers uses to describe the hurricane's death toll will fasci-
nate many students, but parents and teachers should consider the maturity of
the book's readers.
There is an odd tension between the book's conventional romantic plot and
its morbid details, and Rogers might have further discussed these provocative
topics. People close to the hero die in the storm, and there are disturbing
accounts of bodies buried at sea returning to the island's beaches and of endless
efforts to burn the corpses. Perhaps the most unsettling true story retold is that
African American men were forced into this horrific work at bayonet point.
Aspects of this book are quite dark, but they are historically accurate. This excit-
ing retelling of the hurricane, illustrated with photographs from 1900, will be of
value to teachers, and should encourage middle school students to research
Galveston and Texas history.
WILLIAM C. BARNETT
University of Wsconsin-Madison
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004, periodical, 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/m1/557/: accessed December 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.