Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906 Book Poster Image
Plucky orphan survives San Francisco's big quake.

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Kids say

age 8+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Some anti-Chinese discrimination.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's not much to be concerned about here: There's some drinking, and some of the citizens of San Francisco in this period were anti-Chinese.

User Reviews

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Teen, 16 years old Written byxXSpiritWolfXx October 7, 2013

This book is fairly educational and interesting.

To any one; teachers, administrators, guardians, children alone; This book has an educational value, yet at the same time tells a story of being lonely and brav... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history of the San Francisco earthquake, and its similarity to modern disasters. How do people cope in the face of destruction? Why does it seem to bring out both the best and the worst in people? What is our family's plan in case of emergency?

Book details

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