by Stacey Lee
Publication: May 4, 2021
The fate of the Titanic is well known but not all survivors’ stories are. Lee centers the story around the relatively unknown fact there were Chinese passengers also on board the Titanic. She sets the tone of the novel with a simple line: “Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.” I went into the book with a wall built around my heart but cracks still formed to topple it down. Lee carves out a piece of history and makes it her own with a bittersweet tale.
With Lee at the helm, I should have known it was a lost cause to protect myself from the fates of the characters. Who was going to live? Who was going to die? I tried to stay as disconnected as I could, but still found myself drawn into Valora’s story as she tried to convince her brother to pursue their dreams while trying to escape notice of the crew as well as other passengers. I was still able to laugh and I cheer all the while knowing tragedy was only pages away. Then, I cried.
Valora is a dreamer like her father, chasing down her dream of becoming an acrobat. Smart and determined, she’s always prepared to make her own luck, refusing to allow fate to stand in her way. While I liked Valora and appreciated her daring nature, I was slightly irritated with her constantly pushing her brother to see things her way, insistent he drop everything for their childhood dreams too. Her unwillingness to see beyond her own desires and to to try to understand who Jamie is now prevented me from fully supporting her efforts. It’s always difficult when the person you remember is both the same and different from who they have become, and throughout the novel Valora struggles with this.
Like Lee’s other novels, there is a bit of romance sprinkled in but it doesn’t overpower the central story. It left a lasting impression that hit me harder than many romance novels I’ve read. I don’t know how Lee does it because I felt this way about most of the romances that appeared in her other books too. In this particular novel, it’s likely I felt this way because it only just scratches the surface of the potential relationship so the promise of what’s to come left me wanting more. There are additional subplots included that make the story interesting, each weaving well into the other and supporting the overall story rather than feeling disjointed.
As the Titanic’s demise neared, it was difficult to keep my anxiety at bay. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the characters. It was never a matter of whether Lee would stick close to history and allow only six Chinese passengers to survive even as I tried to convince myself she would find some way around it. I knew it was always going to be who would be part of the six. Luck of the Titanic demonstrates once again Lee’s ability to give faces and names to the past, connecting me with people and stories across time. She took me down a journey that only lasted a few hours but left me heartsick for days.
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