It's 1915 and hydroelectric power is starting to take a grip on Niagara, Ontario. When Bess Heath's mom comes to pick her up from private school, Bess immediately notices things are different. Her father and sister aren't there like they usually are, and they have to take the trolley home rather than being driven. Bess learns that her father was fired from his job and her sister Isabel was dumped by her fiance. The Heath family goes from a prominent in society to Bess' mom being a dressmaker; a skill that Bess picks up quickly.
Meanwhile, Bess is enamored with Tom Cole, a "riverman" that can predict the movement of the water through the whirlpool, fish dead bodies out of the river, or save people from being swept away. Bess' parents don't approve of Tom and instead try to push her towards the son of an old family friend, which tears Bess apart.
Along with all the character development and drama, the geography adds another layer to the story, acting like a character on its own. Whenever something happens to a character, the river and falls are usually somehow involved. I very much enjoyed the depth this added and having lived less than an hour away from Niagara Falls my entire life I could easily picture where the characters were and the awe they saw in the river.
I also enjoyed reading of the Canadian perspective of what was happening at home during World War One. The book describes how everyone has to save, when they allow themselves treats, and how women were asked to convince their husbands to go overseas to fight.
The entire book has a sense of foreboding and the entire time I felt like something bad was going to happen. I just couldn't put down the book because I had to know what was going to happen to the characters. Interestingly, the novel was based off a real Niagara Riverman who saved many during his life.
Buy this book from Chapters
First Line: "The stone walls of Loretto Academy are so thick I can sit curled up on a windowsill, arms around the knees tucked beneath my chin."