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What's the story?
After his grandmother dies, leaving him alone, Nick runs away from his orphanage in 1906 Texas to San Francisco. For a while he lives on the streets, hungry, cold, filthy, and lonely, until he talks his way into a job at a stationery shop in exchange for a place to sleep in the basement. The owner even trusts Nick enough to leave him in charge of the shop overnight while he goes across the Bay on business.
But while he's gone the San Francisco earthquake strikes. As fire advances through the city, Nick tries to take care of the owner's dog, Shake, as well as a little girl from across the street and her pregnant, injured mother. Forced to evacuate, they head for Golden Gate Park, the last refuge of those who couldn't make it out of the city.
Is it any good?
Deborah Hopkinson's take is exciting and, at times, moving as the plucky, good-hearted orphan struggles to help others in the face of overwhelming disaster. The details of the earthquake and subsequent fire are gripping, most vividly in the characters' journey across the city while pursued by flames.
Readers of this book surely will be reminded of a similar disaster that happened a century later -- the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Though one was fire and the other flood, the stories are similar: Cities destroyed not so much by acts of nature as by the following failures of man. The differences lie in the effectiveness of the responses to the disasters.