Here is a summary of The Day the Falls Stood Still from Cathy Marie Buchanan's website:
1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near Niagara Falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, her vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating—and harbouring a secret.The night of her return Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him—against her family’s strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the power of the falls for themselves. As their lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future.
This is one book that I can say I wanted to read because of it's cover attraction. There is just something about this cover that reached into my heart and mind saying "Read this one Jo-Jo!" Well I am certainly glad that I did because this story was so beautifully told and full of historical information that I really didn't have any knowledge of before I opened it's pages. This novel also gives the reader a good visual of how the hydroelectric power plants affected the flow of the river and Niagara Falls.
This story is told through the viewpoint of Bess, a seventeen year old girl who has had the opportunity to live a privileged life thus far. She has been attending the Loretto Academy, where her beautiful and older sister, Isabel, previously graduated from. Before Bess is able to complete her education, the Heath family is suddenly trodden with a financial hardship. Bess is pulled out of school and taken home and will never know her pampered lifestyle again. Her mother is a dressmaker and takes Bess under wings, teaching her the in's and out's of what it takes to be a successful seamstress. Together, these two women are able to keep the family afloat from their dressmaking enterprise.
Along the way, Bess runs into a riverman named Tom Cole. Tom is very famous throughout the area and comes from a strong heritage of rivermen. He seems to have a sixth sense about the river and how it flows. One might even say that it seemed that Tom may have the river water running through his veins. Through his eyes, we are given such a vivid picture of the magestic falls and the river that they seem to gain almost a magical quality.
Bess found herself falling in love with Tom Cole, against her parents wishes. This novel takes place during the Great Depression, so since the family had already lost all financial security that they had known, they had hoped that their daughter would marry a young man that brought them back into good social graces. With Tom being a riverman, he did not fit the bill.
I really don't want to give too much of this book away, but I loved being with Bess and Tom as their relationship grew. Tom found himself taking a job that went against everything he believed in for the people he loved, and although Bess enjoyed the financial security, she did not enjoy the changes that she saw in Tom.
In the beginning of this book a tragedy takes place that has Bess questioning her belief in God. She struggles with this throughout the story and I found this to be a very touching and important human element of the novel. Here is an excerpt that I wanted to share from page 215 of the Advanced Reading Copy:
We all matter so very little, not at all after a generation or two. And it is the same for all mankind; not even the greatest of men amount to anything that will survive the forward march of time. It is in these moments of despair I most miss the idea of God, the idea that life has meaning, the idea that we are something more than the products of the random variations and natural selection Charles Darwin put forth.
This was such a beautifully told story that I loved from beginning to end. I think during the time that we live in now, it's also important as we are looking for alternative means of energy, to be aware of how these alternative methods affect our landscape. I also find it interesting that Buchanan based her character of Tom Cole after William "Red" Hill's life. A couple of Red Hill's heroic acts of bravery are retold in this story as Tom Cole. I just loved this story and definitely recommend it!
My Rating: 5/5
Here are a few other informative reviews of this book:
The Burton Review
Peeking Between the Pages
The Reading Journey
Savvy Verse and Wit
Book Chatter and other stuff