Retelling one of the most compelling true stories of the Titanic, Tracy M. Leininger's Nothing Can Separate Us is a mixed bag of tear-jerking fact and writing that leaves something desired.
Leininger tells the true story of Scottish Reverend John Harper through the eyes of his daughter, Nan. The book opens with Nan as a grown woman, telling her son about her experience on board the Titanic. We learn Nan's mother is already in Heaven and that her father is a devout minister. Wherever he goes, he gains new friends - and new converts to Christ. He and his daughter board the Titanic because he's on his way to begin some revivals at Chicago's Moody Church. Interestingly, we're told the Reverend nearly drowned in a well as a child, nearly drowned swimming in the ocean as a young man, and nearly went down with a small sinking ship as an adult.
Nan tells us of the splendors of Titanic (although she's not a first class passenger, she is allowed to tour the first class section of the ship), and explains how her father tried to lead passengers and crew to Christ. Then Nan hears a rumor that the Titanic has been declared "unsinkable." A grown up says people should not tempt God this way, and Nan is frightened. Maybe God will sink the ship. Her father, however, assures her that no matter what happens, God is in control. He says: "Nan, ye need not ever fear. God's Word says He has loved you with an everlasting love, and nothing can separate you from the love of Christ - nothing! Even in death there is victory if you have the Father's love."
Then the Titanic hits the infamous iceberg. Nan's father draws her from bed and carries her to the deck:
"Nan, darling, ye must get into one of the lifeboats with all the women and children, and I must stay on the ship and wait my turn. Do be a brave wee lass and make your Father proud of his princess...And, Nan, no matter what happens to me this night, never forget your Heavenly Father's great love. He will never leave ye. Even if I were to join your mother in glory this night, remember that our home is not here on this earth. It is in heaven, and our parting will be but a brief one. If I make it to glory before ye, I shall be waiting for ye there."Although Nan does not realize it immediately, her father drowns while she is safe on a lifeboat. Much later, families write to Nan to tell her about her father's behavior. He reportedly gives his life vest to another man, saying "I'm not going down, sir - I'm going up!" He asks the band to play the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee." He kneels down and prays with some other men on deck. Before the Titanic goes down, he jumps into the waters and swims, man to man, telling as many as he can how to save their souls.
We also learn about other acts of bravery aboard the Titanic: John Jacob Astor giving up his seat in a lifeboat for a washerwoman, the band leader Wallace Hartley, leading hymns until the band could no longer play, Ida Strauss staying aboard the ship with her husband, and the Countess of Rothes rowing a lifeboat all night.
When Nan's story is over, the author concludes: "Many lifeboats were not filled to their capacity, and amazingly enough, some were too afraid to board them. They did not want to leave the 'safety' of the giant ship and trust in the frail little boats...This is so often the case in our own lives. We would much rather find security in what our mind thinks is 'safe.' As Nan and her father, John Harper, knew, it is not until we leap into the 'lifeboat of faith' in the Lord Jesus Christ that we will be saved."
What I Like: This is a compelling story, albeit difficult to fact check. Reverend John Harper and his daughter Nan were definitely passengers aboard the Titanic, and many stories about his strong Christian faith and desire to lead others to Christ arose after his death. Skeptics say there's no way the Reverend could have swum in the icy waters after the Titanic sank, but there seems little doubt John Harper did his best to attend to the souls of every man he could. Therefore, this is a stirring story that makes readers really think about their own walk with Christ and what they could do to help bring others to the Lord.What I Dislike: The color illustrations by Kelly Pulley and Lisa Reed are only so-so. The artists aren't very skilled at drawing people. Nonetheless, their illustrations (about eight full pages worth) add interest to this book.
What I Dislike: Unfortunately, Leininger 's writing also isn't the strongest. For example, at one point a grown up Nan quotes her young self:
"'Look, Father!' I exclaimed, my eyes sparkling with excitement. 'What pretty Irish lace and linens those bumboats are carrying. I do love bonny things and this ship is full of them.'"Also, while unfamiliar words like "bumboats" are given definitions at the bottom of the page, many other unfamiliar words and phrases (like "Turkish baths") are not. In addition, the author gives the incorrect meaning for "S.O.S." She says it stands for "Save Our Souls," but books on maritime (including 1918's Marconi's Yearbook of Wireless Telegrapphy and Telephony) say S.O.S. is used because it's easy to radiate. Mistakes like these call into question other important facts.Yet even with weak writing, this story is compelling. I found myself crying through the last section.
Overall Rating: Good.
Age Appeal: 6 - 12.
Publisher Info: His Seasons, 2000; ISBN: 0-9724287-1-2; hardback; $15.99