This novel starts when seventeen year old Bess has first learned that she will not be returning to the boarding school she has been to for years, situated in view of the Horseshoe falls. Her father has lost his job at the power plant, her older sister’s fiance broke off their engagement, and her family is now struggling to make ends meet.
Soon Bess meets Tom, a local “ne’er-do-well” that none of her family and friends approve of. But Tom is able to hear the river, can see signs from it that no one else can, and Bess becomes enthralled. She begins spurning off her own fiance, and disgraces her family, but Bess has decided that it’s all worth it for love.
Taking place in the early 20th century on the Canadian side of the falls, this book is a picture of what living in WWI-era rural Canada would have been like.
This book had a beautiful melancholy to it – beautiful like so many books try to be but fall short. This one thankfully grasped that beauty. It was sad and steady, and had such strength in it. It’s not a fast-paced book, more like a meander through Bess’s life. And did I mention that it was beautiful?
I do love books with really strong female characters… and that’s not always so easy to find in contemporary books. But Bess is a survivor – she doesn’t give up and throw herself over the falls like she could have, she doesn’t wallow in her misery. No, she finds a way through it and keeps herself together to keep those around her from falling apart. She is the one who tries to get Isabel through her own depression at losing her fiance. She goes to work when she was raised in a family where she wouldn’t have had to work if not for her father’s mistake. She raises a son when her husband is off fighting in WWI.
And I love how well this book portrayed the falls. You can practically feel the mist from the falls soaking into your being when Bess and Tom visit the falls. It’s refreshing and full of majesty, and I love how it is depicted.
I found the newspaper clippings a little distracting from the story, and will admit that after the first couple I skipped the remaining ones (unless they were specifically about Tom). They do certainly give a bit more history about what happened surrounding the falls, but I didn’t like the interruption to the narrative.
The Bottom Line
Definitely a solid Canadian historical fiction. Gives an awesome glimpse of how life in WWI on the home-front in rural Ontario would have been, and I would highly recommend this to anyone and everyone.