In an interesting twist for historical fiction, T.K. Welsh's first young adult novel, The Unresolved, develops a tale of romance told from the point of view of a ghost, a victim of the true-life burning and sinking of the steamship the General Slocum in New York City's East River in June 1904. In the novel, the steamship fire is started after our protagonist, 15-year-old Mallory, receives her first kiss from a young man. He attempts to save her, but the ship's lifejackets are rotten (a historically accurate detail), and she drowns after he pushes her into the water. He survives, only to be blamed for causing the fire, and our now ghostly narrator cannot rest until justice is done. No doubt many adolescents will enjoy this blend of romance and the supernatural set against the backdrop of an American tragedy that is often overlooked.
Horn Book Magazine
Using the convention of a spirit unable to rest until its death is avenged, Welsh spins a decidedly unconventional ghost story about New York's General Slocum steamboat disaster of 1904. Fifteen-year-old Mallory Meer is one of some 1,300 pleasure-goers, mostly German Lutherans on a church outing, on the Slocum; another passenger is Dustin Brauer, the sixteen-year-old Jewish boy she fancies. A quick kiss down below deck is followed by a fire sparked by a carelessly dropped cigarette, which leads to the burning or drowning of over one thousand passengers and the foundering of the ship. Mallory herself speaks to the reader from death, her spirit flitting from the official inquest into the disaster to the informal, parallel inquest held in Kleindeustchland, or Little Germany, which seeks to hold Dustin responsible. It's a highly effective device, to have Mallory looking over the shoulders - and in some cases, inhabiting the bodies - of the personalities involved. Welsh presents the details of the disaster without flinching and explores both the pain and the self-serving motivations of all concerned. Set against a backdrop that includes the rise of labor and pervasive anti-Semitism, it's a tightly wound novel of conflicting interests and emotions that keep Mallory haunting long after the inquests are concluded.
Prior to 9/11, the greatest single disaster of New York City's history occurred on June 15, 1904, when the steamship General Slocum caught fire on the East River, killing over 1,000 passengers. Most were German women and children headed to the Sunday School picnic of St. Mark's Lutheran Church. Welsh tells his story through the ghost of 15-year-old Mallory, whose first kiss-from a Jewish boy-may have precipitated the fire. Mallory's ghost roams the Lower East Side, witnessing the attempts of the grossly negligent steamship company to avoid blame; the parents carrying tiny, home-made coffins to the graveyard; and the German merchants, hoping to scapegoat someone from outside their community. In this last, Welsh falls short, as the catastrophic emotions the survivors must have felt pale, in his version, against the idea that they might be able to blame a Jew. While the physical time and place are very well realized, the emotional landscape isn't-Mallory's ghostly presence contributes to an overall feeling of detachment. On the whole, however, a remarkable account of an incident about which many Americans know nothing at all. (Historical fiction. 14+)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-On the day of her first kiss, June 15, 1904, Mallory Meer, 15, dies in the General Slocum steamship disaster. That historical blaze killed more than 1000 people from the part of New York City known as Kleindeutschland. Dustin Brauer, her Jewish boyfriend, had snuck aboard to be with her. Now, he is accused of setting the fire by the son of his father's employer, a leader in the German neighborhood. As the official coroner's inquest occurs, a secondary one takes place in the community with Dustin on trial. Mallory, now insubstantial, sees everything and helps the truth to emerge. While historically no conclusive proof was found of how the fire started, Welsh does a creditable job of imagining how it spread, including disturbing images of those trapped on the burning vessel. He uses Mallory's ghostly presence to bring the coroner's inquest, and those from the boat company and the safety inspector's office, to life. Unresolved tells a remarkable story in a remarkable way. Give this engrossing novel to fans of Kathryn Reiss or Vivian Vande Velde's Being Dead (Harcourt, 2001), and to those who like a supernatural flair with their historical fiction. Without explaining anti-Semitism or corruption, Welsh shows readers the neighborhood's vibrancy and prejudices and helps them to understand how justice worked in early-20th-century New York.-Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The Washington Post
Narrated by the ghost of a 15-year-old girl who drowned when the steamship General Slocum burned and sank in the East River on June 15, 1904, this historical novel with a supernatural twist offers a (dark) take on New York. Welsh writes with a precision and delicacy unusual for YA fiction. Here's the drowned girl's underwater view after the catastrophe: Through the waving arms and legs . . . if you looked carefully, you could still see tiny hairs on the dead skin, rippling like rabbit fur in a breeze. But an equally unflinching exploration of issues from anti-Semitism and corruption to adolescent sexuality makes this one strictly for older readers.