Review: Dear America – A City Tossed and Broken

by Becky
Published: Last Updated on

Why: This book choice was a direct byproduct of Joli’s post on books from the 1990s. I couldn’t help but search my library’s catalog for one (ok, I borrowed two…) of these childhood favorites. This particular title captured my attention because I was recently in the San Francisco area and knew very little about the catastrophic earthquake it focuses on. I am also fascinated by the early 1900s which – to continue to throw back theme – is probably why I wanted the Samantha Parkington American Girl doll.

The Story: The diary of Minnie Bonner transports the reader back to 1906 and the growth of cross-country travel. Unfortunately for Minnie, her move from Philadelphia to San Francisco is thoroughly against her will. In the company of a family she loathes, and all alone in a foreign environment, Minnie’s character and inner strength face trial by fire, just as the citizens of San Francisco are tested by physical fire and destruction.

The street was so quiet. No clang of the cable car, no noise of the streetcar. The sun was rising, and as it rose I could see more clearly that there was a cloud over downtown, hanging in the air, from the collapsed buildings.

Opinion: As with most Dear America stories, and the juvenile genre in general, many aspects of the plot seem a bit far fetched or perhaps simply too convenient. Keeping in mind author Judy Blundell had 197 short pages though, I thought the story maintained an authenticity worthy of historical literature. The details and descriptions of people moving through the aftermath of the earthquake in particular gave me chills. I also appreciated the honesty with which Minnie’s character worked through the morality of her actions. Of course , in the end, she makes the ethical choice, but you can feel the struggle and the motivation to take the other path. In a story meant for children, I was glad to see that they are being in grained with the idea that it’s ok to wrestle with difficult decisions, and not everything in life is going to be black and white.

Recommendation: Great choice for youthful readers. Enough history that they learn something and enough drama to hide the educational material. Also a quick, enjoyable read for adults, especially if you have any knowledge of the Bay Area. Even in my two short stays in San Francisco, it was fun to recognize many of the locations mentioned in the book that remain today.

Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post!)

  1. What is the name of the tavern that is critical to this story?
  2. What type of flower takes a starring role in this book? How many different renditions of this flower can you name?
  3. What ironic task was Minnie preparing to do when the earthquake struck?
  4. What was the name of the baby in the Jennardi family? Why do you think the author chose this name?
  5. What did Minnie suggest to Mrs. Flynn that almost gave away her position?
  6. Given the same circumstances, would you have made the decision Minnie did?

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