Monday, 4 October 2010

Review: Three Rivers Rising

Dear Blog,
2010 Debut Author Challenge novel #3.  I had better get reading if I want to complete the challenge, which I do. 
Another short review- Is there such a thing as reviewers block?  If so, I think I might have it. But I'm reviewing Three Rivers Rising because it's a wonderful book, anyway, and I need to say why.
Summary (from Goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Celestia is a wealthy member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, where she meets and falls in love with Peter, a hired hand who lives in the valley below, and by the time of the torrential rains that lead to the disastrous Johnstown flood of 1889, she has been disowned by her family and is staying with him in Johnstown. Includes an author’s note and historical timeline.

Review: Historical fiction, verse novels and dual narratives all make me very happy.  Put them together and you have the work of art that is Three Rivers Rising.  What more could I ask for?!  But for all my interest in American history, I'd never heard anything about the Johnstown Flood.  Maybe I've missed out on what's considered to be a huge tragedy over in the States, and I'm just ignorant.  Either way, now I've read about it, it was pretty fascinating.  And of course the idea for a story based around such a devastating event was fantastic. 

This book alternates between the points of view of Celestia, Peter, Maura, a girl not much older than Celestia but already married with three young children, Kate, a young window-turned-medical student, and, briefly, Celestia's father. At first when Maura and Kate came into the story I was slightly confused about what their place was in both the universe and the novel.  Their place in the universe still remains to me much of a mystery, but their place in the novel is to give it extra dimensions, points of view and adding extra dimensions and meaning.  I think Three Rivers Rising would have been more of a hopelessly romantic yet poetically tragic love story  if it hadn't had those other elements to it. It is a hopelessly romantic yet poetically tragic love story anyway, I suppose, but these extra voices give it more depth.  For instance, the brief glimpse into the mind of Whitcomb, Celestia's dad, makes him seem like much more of a complex character, and more of a person than a rich businessman.  He is, I suppose, the closest thing that the book has to a villain. 

For all these many voices, Jame Richards still manages to make each voice unique,  and give each person a story to tell.  They're all three-dimensional.
It's hard to say that Celestia was a likeable main character, mainly because all the other characters are so well-rounded and have you rooting for them, it's hard to call her a "main character" (even though she is really).  Anyway, she was brave and true to herself, even though admittedly she does suffer a little from Rebellious Princess Syndrome,  it's not in such an obvious sort of way  à la the girls of Spence Academy in the Gemma Doyle trilogy. 

I suppose the one thing I wasn't too keen on was how rushed the opening of the book was.  It's strange- the reader seemed slightly thrown in at the deep end in that Peter and Celestia were already having secret meetings and kissing by page seventeen.  However, on the other hand, the book opens the summer before the flood, allowing Peter and Celestia to get to know each other and such before the flood.

And the flood itself. Especially towards the end of the book, Three Rivers Rising was devastating and utterly heart-wrenching.  I thought it was particularly effective how the day of the flood, as well as stating the location and which character is narrating, the time of day, so the reader can observe the events unfolding from the failure of the dam to the destruction of Johnstown.
For all the novels-in-verse I devour, it's rare that I come across historical fiction written in verse format,  so this made me happy.  And it was particularly wonderful poetry, which seemed to flow, almost, like a river.

In Three Words: poetic, heart-wrenching, fascinating. 
reccomended for: everyone.  Especially those who've never heard of the Johnstown Flood.
Rating: 5. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    I work for the Guardian books site (, and I have really enjoyed reading your blog. We are in the early stages of creating a YA booksite and we wondered if you would be interested in being part of our advisory panel?
    If you are interested, you can email me at

    Best wishes,


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