Ellen Emerson White’s fictional account of Margaret Ann Brady, a passenger aboard the Titanic, is captured through her character’s diary writings in a way that makes the reader question if this is truly fiction. The weaving of tale and truth are done so well in “Dear America: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady” that the reader has to stop and take pause.
Our story starts in 1912, London, England, with Margaret Ann in the care of St. Abernathy’s Orphanage for Girls. Upon her arrival, she didn’t speak for months, but with the kindness of a nun that looked after her, she eventually came around. Writing in her diary certainly helped to her stress and anxiety, as well.
When the summons of work as a personal assistant comes up, Margaret Ann makes it known that she would like to be of service. The truth is she wants to do no such thing, but her alternatives – back alleys and workhouses – are not places she wants to be either.
Her brother, William, is already in America, and he is the only family she has. If she could make some money and join him there, that would make her happy. Mrs. Carstairs, her future employer, is not so sure about hiring her, but her dog, Florence, adores Margaret Ann, which seems to seal the deal.
The details in the description of Margaret Ann’s journey on the Titanic bring the activities on the ship to life. Everything from the culinary excess of dinner, the fabric of clothing, and the treatment of staff are woven into the story in such a way to make readers feel like they, too, are present.
When the ship actually hits the historical iceberg that eventually takes it down, people are not bothered by this right away. Mrs. Carstairs insists on getting some sleep, “as any sensible person would at this hour.”
It is only upon the insistence of Robert, a member of the crew that Margaret Ann has befriended, that she takes this drill seriously. What happens to the Titanic, Margaret Ann, Mrs. Carstairs, her dog Florence, and even Robert allow readers to see multiple outcomes. The real question is: will Margaret Ann be reunited with her brother? Will she make it to America?
The timeline, the photographs, and the maps that are included in the book make this a rich accounting of what happened from a third-class passenger’s point-of-view who got to travel with a first-class passenger. White’s writing is clear and gripping, bringing readers along for the sail and sinking of the Titanic.