As the story begins, we find out that Grace Winter, 22, is on trial for murder along with two other women who were among the survivors of a shipwreck and three-week ordeal aboard a lifeboat. Grace’s attorneys have asked her to write up her recollections of the experience, which comprise most of the remainder of the book.
As we read through what happened, we realize something is very, very wrong, but figuring out what really happened is difficult – a matter that will no doubt have book clubs arguing for a long time!
Grace was on the ocean liner Empress Alexandra with her new husband Henry. They were returning from Europe because of the outbreak of World War I. Following an explosion, the ship sank, and Grace and 38 others (but not Henry) were put into a lifeboat with an ostensible capacity for 40 but which actually was meant for fewer persons. One ship’s officer, Mr. Hardie, is also on board and takes charge of the group. But as days go by without rescue, and food and water become scarce, Mr. Hardie’s authority is soon challenged by two strong women, Ursula Grant and Hannah West, and the boat divides into factions. Measures taken for survival became more extreme:
“The bare bones of our natures were showing. None of us were worth a pit. We were stripped of all decency. I couldn’t see that there was anything good or noble left once food and shelter were taken away.”
Since the book begins with the trial, we know that at least these three women were eventually rescued, but we don’t know until almost the end how this happened and if anyone else survived.
Discussion: This is one seriously creepy story. Besides the unpleasantness that happens as each person’s survival becomes dependent on fewer other competitors for food and water, there is something quite unsettling about Grace. We find out a bit more about it in the Epilogue, but for the most part, we have a narrator who, as in the book Liar by Justine Larbalestier, seems to be extremely manipulative and deceptive. I couldn’t wait to find others who had read the book to talk about it!
Evaluation: This is a fascinating study in human behavior under the most challenging circumstances, told by a narrator who may be an innocent young girl, or may be a psychopath. Puzzling out who Grace really is and what actually happened will keep readers turning the pages of this clever book!
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little Brown and Company a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2012