The Great Chicago Fire, 1871
She lost her family in the Civil War and fled from Georgia to Chicago disguised as a boy. Here 18-year-old Katina Monroe finds work as “William,” acting in a small theater, as she dreams of writing a brilliant drama and gaining wealth and fame as a woman in her own name. But life takes an unexpected twist when she meets crusading young minister Russell Cosgrove on a street corner and he persuades “William” to help him create a shelter for the destitute.
Katina can’t tell Russell the truth, even as they work side-by-side, until the day love and jealousy drive her to reveal her true self at last. Together they build a dream of new lives and a new city — until a sudden fire rages through the streets. Now they are racing for their lives as Chicago burns in their wake….
I got this book specifically to read for “Passport to Chicago” feature on PBD. It was more of a romance than a history lesson (which made it more fun to read). It is part of a series that is designed for Young Adult readers with the purpose of showing them a bit of history, kind of like “The Magic Tree House” series is for children. There are other titles like “HINDENBERG, 1937″, “SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE, 1906”, and “WASHINGTON AVALANCHE, 1910”.
“THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE, 1871” revolves around a young 18 year old who travels to Chicago after her family was killed in the Civil War in Georgia. She disguises herself as a boy named William (Can you say Yentil?) and acts in a small theater to earn money. Katina (still masquerading as William) meets a young minister on a street corner who convinces her to help him create a shelter for the poor called the Homeplace. He soon discovers that young William is actually Katina, and then the fierce fire breaks out in Chicago and begins to consume the city in it’s flames. The only thing to survive that fire was the Water Tower on the North Side and it is still standing-I have seen it.
She had been rescued but jumps overboard there at the Randolph Street Bridge downtown and swims five feet to shore so she can find her way back to the Homeplace where she knows that Russell will find her. Of course, this plot has been used over and over and over and over…but it is still a really fun and light read (even though the fire itself is not such a light subject). The heroine is really convincing and a great role model. Katina changes her identity to keep her dreams alive, yet never loses sight of her dreams, and finds some new dreams along the way which is always an inspiring story (I love a good dreamer;)). If you look at it as a romance and not a major historical novel then you will not be disappointed.