What You Need to Know:|
• Life in the early 1900's gets complicated for five sisters and their clairvoyant mother.
• The older sisters are interested in boys/marriage and are also exposed to couples involved in extramarital affairs.
• One sister grapples with her heritage when she discovers that she is biracial.
• The inclusion of time-travel gives the story a unique twist.
• Despite being surrounded by those who can see into the future, the sisters end up on the doomed ship, the Titanic.
• April 15, 2012 marks the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
• Several characters in the story perish when the Titanic goes down.
• Beyond the Titanic, there are many references to real people and events. In the Author's Note, readers can find
answers as to "What's Real" in the story.
This story is about coming of age under unusual circumstances in the early 1900's. The focus is on the oldest sister, Mimi and the second-to-oldest, Jane, who narrates. As the book begins, their father has recently passed away, and their mother, a clairvoyant, is at a crossroads in her life. She chooses to leave her husband's family and take her daughters to live with a group of spiritualists in a place called Spirit Vale. Before they leave New York City behind, they have an unexpected encounter with real-life inventor, Nikola Tesla. Their brief encounter has a lasting effect on the family. Their mother uses Tesla's concept that "everything vibrates" to explain her spiritual connections, and Jane follows his career closely. Years go by, and they settle into life in Spirit Vale where they become connected to the community. They become comfortable in a world where strange is commonplace. Despite this fact, the sisters are shocked to learn that their oldest sister, Mimi, has a different mother. It turns out that their father had a first wife, a Haitian woman who passed away, and she is Mimi's biological mother.
Mimi is completely unsettled by the news and feeling restless so when Jane, an aspiring writer, expresses an interest in interviewing Tesla, Mimi suggests they sneak off to New York City to see him. This decision sets a complicated sequence of events into motion, leading them on a trip to Europe and later to the Titanic. They fall in love, travel, stand up for themselves, meet famous people, get engaged, and lose loved ones. Although they have spent their lives surrounded by ghosts and spirits, in the end, it is an even more unlikely circumstance that changes all of their futures.
Like the Titanic and its icebergs, a lot of big concepts collide in this story. Readers are exposed to life in the early twentieth century, the dubiousness of psychic powers, the ethical dilemmas that come with a new invention, the confusion associated with a biracial background, and the mind-bending possibilities of time travel. Although it's a lot to think about and some of the sub-plots seem a bit random, I have to say that this story inspired an interesting conversation in my daughter's book group. The girls were especially interested in what was real versus fiction. I was personally struck by the fact that 14 years before the Titanic sailed, Morgan Robertson published a short novel about a ship called the Titan that collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage. On another note, I was a little surprised that, although the title includes the phrase "A Novel of the Titanic", 200 pages pass before they get on that ship.
2011, 336 pages
Adventure, History, Identity, Magic
• Who was the narrator of the story and why do you think the author chose that person?
• Do you believe that time travel is possible? Would you like to try it? Where would you go?
• Do you think that Jane's mother could really contact the spirits? Why or why not?
• Why did Edison and Tesla disagree?
• Is charging for electricity like charging for air? Should it be free? Why or why not?
• Should inventors make money from their inventions?
• What are some rights to which all people should be entitled?
• What is capitalism? Do you think that Tesla was a capitalist?
• How has life changed for women since the time of this story?
• Was their mother right to keep Mimi's heritage from her?
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