The author of The Only Sounds We Make and Lessons narrates the tale of Fern Halvorson, an old woman recalling her childhood journey on a great coal-fired ferry in the icy winter of 1936—and the secret she has kept since that ill-fated voyage.
Zacharias...is a masterly writer who obviously has done a great deal of research. She brings the Manitou’s voyage to vivid life with rich and convincing detail, in wonderfully wrought language that is almost poetic. She knows about lake ice, shipwrecks, legends and wintry storms. She knows and shows us what the staterooms and cargo areas look like, what the shipboard food is like and what the various jobs were aboard a railroad ferry. And yet, neither the breadth and depth of her knowledge nor the obvious care Zacharias takes with her prose overwhelms Fern’s story, a story that will grip your imagination and touch your heart ... This is a wise book, written with uncommon care.
Some novels evoke a bygone era more vividly than others, and this is definitely one of these. The narrator proceeds with careful, haunting precision ... The author excels at period-appropriate details and at bringing to life the stern attitudes of her immigrant parents and the other characters featured. The novel is perfect for a cold, rainy night, wrapped in a warm blanket and sipping tea. It’s one to be reread and savored for years to come.
It’s an achievement when an adult writes convincingly in the voice of a 5-year-old, and Lee Zacharias succeeds with Fern ... The story is meticulously researched ... The result is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from what otherwise is a rather thin story ... Fern relates that a secret will haunt her throughout life, but it’s difficult to feel her trauma—perhaps because, at heart, this is a story told from a 5-year-old’s perspective and the distance between Fern and the typical reader finally is too great. Zacharias has brought history to the page with great skill. Read for this reason, letting Fern serve as an excuse.