63 pages 2 hours read

Ivy Ruckman

Night of the Twisters

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1984

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Summary and Study Guide



Night of the Twisters is a young adult realistic fiction novel written by award-winning author Ivy Ruckman. The book was the recipient of several awards, including the Golden Sower Award, the Iowa Children’s Choice Award, and the Sequoyah Children’s Book Award. It was also recommended as an Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children by the National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council. A movie of the same name based loosely on the book was released 12 years after its publication. Ruckman is the author of several other books for young adults including No Way Out, In the Care of Cassie Tucker, and In a Class by Herself. Ruckman worked in the Salvation Army before receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1953 from Hastings College in Nebraska. She is a former English teacher and creative writing instructor. She lived in Salt Lake City, Utah and passed away in 2021. She was 90 years old.

Night of the Twisters tells the story of a single summer night in Grand Island, Nebraska when several tornadoes touched down, causing chaos and devastation. While based on a true event, the book follows fictional character Dan Hatch as he endures the harrowing ordeal and struggles to be reunited with his family. Dan lives with his parents and baby brother, Ryan, in a close-knit community. His Aunt Goldie lives nearby, as does his best friend Arthur Darlington. Dan spends most of his time with Arthur and is with him when the tornadoes hit.

Readers may note that the novel contains outdated stereotypes, including body shaming, and terms for Indigenous Americans that some may find offensive. These stereotypes and terms may be quoted in the guide, but they do not imply that SuperSummary endorses the use of these terms or stereotypes.

Plot Summary

The book begins with Dan and Arthur spending the day together like any other.

They attend Aunt Goldie’s crafts class in which Arthur makes an Indigenous American bull-roarer. His demonstration goes awry when he ends up breaking a lightbulb after swinging it around his head. Dan and Arthur joke about the mishap when they bike to the state park for a swim. Although they leave abruptly when the wind begins to pick up, there is no indication that exceptionally bad weather is approaching. On their way out, they run into Arthur’s sisters Stacey, whom Dan has a crush on, and Ronnie Vae. They talk briefly and then Dan and Arthur head back to Dan’s house for dinner.

Once at home, Dan gives a sense of his relationship with his family. He harbors some bitterness and resentment towards Ryan, who is now the center of everyone’s attention. Dan does little to help around the house or with his brother, which creates some tension with his parents, especially his dad. As his dad heads out after dinner to help Dan’s grandparents with their broken tractor, he suggests that Dan has been acting selfishly. Dan is upset by his dad’s comments and has a hard time forgetting about them, even when Dan and Arthur briefly go over to Arthur’s house. On the way, they stop to admire the new, sturdy door on their elderly neighbor Belle Smiley’s house. Mrs. Smiley tells them to come back and visit her soon. They don’t stay long at Arthur’s and are soon back at Dan’s house so Arthur can spend the night.

The wind, which has been getting stronger, starts to noticeably pick up. As Dan and Arthur are watching television, a weather alert comes on the screen. Dan’s mom runs out to check on Belle Smiley and make sure she saw the alert, leaving Dan to watch Ryan. Right after she leaves, the sirens start, indicating a tornado is coming. Dan grabs Ryan from his crib and heads down to the basement bathroom with Arthur. They crouch together under a blanket in the shower as the tornado passes directly over them. The entire house is ripped apart, but the three of them survive.

After the first tornado passes, Dan and Arthur try to figure out how to get out of the basement. Stacey, Arthur’s sister, comes to the window and helps pull them out. Dan now turns all his attention to finding his parents. He soon encounters his mom, who’s been out looking for them. She was at Belle Smiley’s house during the tornado but was unable to reach Mrs. Smiley in the basement. Dan, Arthur, and Stacey volunteer to go to her house and find her while Dan’s mom and Ryan head on a bus to a temporary shelter at Kmart. They rescue Mrs. Smiley and put her on another bus, also headed to Kmart. Since there is no room for them on the bus, Dan, Arthur, and Stacey head out in a police car with an officer who says his name is Kelly.

In the police car with Officer Kelly, the group encounters another tornado. Dan offers to drive when Officer Kelly is hit in the face with broken glass. Kelly tells Dan to go to police headquarters instead of the Kmart. Dan drives everyone to the police station safely where they spend the night. Dan bonds with Arthur and Stacey, praying with the latter while holding her hand. Arthur confesses he thinks the bull-roarer caused the tornado, but Dan reassures him that’s not the case. Dan secretly worries the natural disaster is punishment for his bad attitude towards his baby brother. However, he quickly dismisses those thoughts as well, telling Arthur no one is to blame.

The next morning Dan once again focuses his attention on being reunited with his family. Mrs. Minetti, who helped look after them at the station, drives Dan, Arthur, and Stacey to the armory, where several survivors are located. Arthur and Stacey are reunited with their parents, but Dan’s family isn’t there. Mrs. Minetti tries to get Dan to the Kmart, but the roads are blocked from flooding. Dan takes off on foot, crying while running towards his house. He doesn’t know where else to go. Just then, Dan’s dad’s truck pulls up behind him and the family is reunited. They all hug emotionally.

In the aftermath of the storm, the community must rebuild. A year later, Dan recounts efforts from volunteers from all over the country. He notes that in his own neighborhood, Mrs. Smiley provided for everyone, bringing out canned goods from her basement for the neighborhood to eat. Everyone gathered to enjoy the food. Dan is closer with his family than before and now appreciates his younger brother. During the night of the twisters, he realized how much he loves his family, including his brother. At the close of the book, everyone is gathering for a big dinner commemorating the one-year anniversary of that fateful night. Dan and Arthur are still best friends and get ready to enjoy the feast.