Maiden Voyage

Cynthia Bass, Author
Cynthia Bass, Author Villard Books $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-43034-6
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-553-37889-4
Mass Market Paperbound - 304 pages - 978-0-553-58063-1
Hardcover - 978-0-517-32644-2
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We've crossed these waters so often, knowing the story so well-the separations of husband from wife, the third-class passengers doomed from the start-that it hardly seems possible to find a new spin on the tale of the Titanic. But Bass (Sherman's March) achieves a measure of success by tying the story of the sinking ship to the end of an era-dramatized by the suffragist movement. In April of 1912, Sumner Jordan, a privileged 12-year-old Bostonian, finds himself safely aboard the Titanic, finally ready to set sail. Sumner's boredom lifts aboard ship when he discovers the presence of 21-year-old feminist Ivy Earnshaw (on whom he develops a crush). Two thirds of the book pass before the berg is struck and the reader, completely caught up in the tale, remembers that this ship has to sink. But that's when things really start to crackle. Biology is destiny here, expressed in the chivalric maritime call for ""women and children first,"" and Sumner picks a rather inopportune moment to contemplate whether or not it's time to become a man. The lifeboat scenes are top-notch, as is the depicted aftermath of survivors' guilt. Back home, anti-suffragists exploit the disaster to ask if women are willing to sacrifice chivalry for the vote. Bass expertly conveys the peculiarly self-conscious isolation of a child possessed of an adult intelligence; as Sumner grapples with issues of heroism and justice in the face of trauma, she gracefully blends the coming-of-age tale of one boy with that of an entire society. (Apr.)
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