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The Titanic Disaster: Thinking About the Unsinkable

On April 14-15, 1912, the supposedly unsinkable RMS Titanic struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sunk on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. Of the more than 2200 people on board, approximately 1500 died.

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of this disaster, and near, far, wherever you are, you’ll be bombarded with the marketing of all things Titanic. There’s a re-release of the 1997 movie Titanic (in 3D), luxury memorial cruises, lectures, museums exhibits, replica jewelry, and revivals of Titanic: The Musical.

And of course there are books–here’s a sampling of titles with YA appeal:

Titanic: Voices from the DisasterTitanic: Voices From the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (publication date: April 1, 2012). Reviews uniformly praise this new non-fiction examination of the disaster, highlighted by accounts from primary sources and archival photos. School Library Journal says that “what makes it stand out is the intimacy readers feel for the crew and passengers,” and Kirkus Reviews predicts it is “sure to be a definitive work.”

The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the TitanicThe Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults). A millionaire, a beautiful Lebanese refugee, the captain who will go down with his ship, and the iceberg itself provide some of the 24 accounts in this unique novel written in verse. The individual stories build to create a palpable sense of impending disaster. Booklist‘s starred review called it “a masterpiece.”

FatefulFateful by Claudia Gray. Seventeen-year-old ladies’ maid Tess Davies boards the Titanic with plans to make a better life for herself in America. On board, she falls for handsome Alec Marlow, who also is trying to build a new life–he is a werewolf on the run from an evil werewolf brotherhood. This paranormal romance proves that there’s a Titanic book for just about every reader!

By the Light of the Silvery MoonBy the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer. Amelia Gladstone is traveling to the U.S. on the Titanic to meet a potential husband. When her cousin backs out of the trip at the last minute, she offers his ticket to homeless Quentin Walpole, who is desperate to board. By coincidence, Quentin’s long-lost brother Damien also is on the ship, and Amelia finds herself attracted to them both. Whom should she trust her heart to, and will it matter, given the inevitable?

No MoonNo Moon by Irene N. Watts. In 1912 London, 14-year-old Lou Gardener works under the thumb of the harsh Nanny Mackintosh as a nursemaid to the young daughters of a wealthy family. When Nanny is injured days before the family is to travel on the Titanic, Lou must take her place. Haunted by the drowning of her brother when they were children, Lou is terrified of water, but she cannot afford to lose her job. When disaster strikes, will Lou be up to the challenge of trying to save herself and her young charges?

The Time Traveling FashionistaThe Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky. Twelve-year-old Louise Lambert is an average modern kid, except that she’s obsessed with vintage fashion. At a sale of vintage clothing, she tries on an old gown and is transported to 1912 aboard the Titanic as the gown’s original owner, silent film star Alice Baxter. Will she go down with the ship or survive to return to suburbia? As Booklist noted, “The fashioncentric approach makes for an unusual gateway to historical fiction.”

Distant Waves: a Novel of the TitanicDistant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic by Suzanne Weyn. Famed clairvoyant Maude Oneida Taylor makes a living by talking to the dead. Of her five daughters, only twins Emma and Amelie seem to have inherited her so-called powers: Mimi desires luxury, Jane (the narrator) is fascinated by science, and Blythe wants fame and fortune. Their destinies converge aboard the Titanic, where a voyage that promised great adventure turns into a fight for survival.

Maiden VoyageMaiden Voyage by Cynthia Bass. After a dream trip to England, 12-year-old Sumner Jordan is excited to be traveling home to Boston on the Titanic. He’s been raised by a suffragist mother to believe that men and women are equal, but when the ship goes down, it’s women and children first into the lifeboats. Back home, Sumner struggles with survivor’s guilt, exacerbated by groups of varying political stripes who exploit the tragedy for their own means. Published in 1998, this book is out of print, but it’s readily available at public libraries.

Amanda/MirandaAmanda/Miranda by Richard Peck (who won the 1990 Margaret A. Edwards Award). In 1911, 18-year-old Mary Cooke gets a job as maid to rich and nasty Amanda Whitwell. Incredibly, the two women are identical enough to pass as twins. Amanda renames Mary “Miranda” and uses her as a pawn in a plan to ensnare a rich American husband. When lady and maid find themselves on the Titanic, Miranda is unwittingly given the chance to change her destiny. First published in 1980, there is a new paperback release (with a sexy new cover) just for the anniversary.

James Cameron's TitanicAnd what’s a movie re-release without the re-release of its “behind the scenes” book? Viewers who fall in the love with the movie for the first time can pick up the updated edition of James Cameron’s Titanic by its writer/director/producer, featuring photos of the young Leonardo DiCaprio when he was a heart-throb.

What is it about the Titanic disaster that continues to capture the world’s imagination? Are you interested in the anniversary, or do you plan to sit this one out as the band plays on?

— Suzanne Neumann, currently reading This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

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Suzanne Neumann