Three Rivers Rising

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of The Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards

Celestia has always been the daughter who obeys her father, preferring books over boys.  But when she meets Peter, a boy who works at the hotel she is staying at with her family, she falls in love.  The two of them spend secret hours together swimming in Lake Conemaugh, talking and stealing kisses.  Distracted by her budding relationship, Celestia is not aware that her sister is also in love, but Estrella has gone much farther and ends up pregnant.  Celestia must now give up her love and attend to her family.  When she returns a year later, Peter no longer works at the hotel, and Celestia must make a fateful choice – to be disowned by her wealthy family and follow her heart or to obey and marry a man she doesn’t care for.  Her choice, made in 1889, comes just before the historical disaster of the Johnstown Flood.  Far more is about to be at stake than being disowned.

Tautly written in verse, this book immerses the reader into the culture of the day.  It is a world where class is protected, where wealth is new or old, where hotel boys do not mingle with guests, where children are disowned, where love flourishes despite it all.  Richards has cleverly taken different voices and told their stories here.  The reader knows that disaster is about to happen, keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout the story.  As each voice speaks, there is another character to care about, another perspective to view the flood and the society from. 

Though this is the story of the flood, it is also the story of love that transcends barriers.  It is at heart a romance set in a terrible time.  Richards’ poetry is by turns sweet and bitter.  As the flood occurs, readers will find themselves amazed, saddened and devastated.  We are in Richards’ hands here and what great hands they are.  It is hard to believe this is a debut novel given the confidence and ability that she demonstrates.

Highly recommended, this book is historical fiction at its best combined with the best of a verse novel.  Prepare to be mesmerized.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

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Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

Maddy lives in a sprawling complex with her large extended family.  Descendants of a famous actress, the family members are dramatic, eccentric and interesting.  Maddy is wildly in love with her cousin Rogan.  As children they stole kisses under the porch, but it becomes more serious and complicated as they become teens.  During one of their secret trysts together in the attic, the two discover a tiny stage hidden behind the wallboards, complete with effects and lighting.  When Rogan and Maddy are both cast in their school’s performance of Twelfth Night the magic that is the two of them together is threatened. 

In a world of bloated, oversized teen novels, this short book is a powerful gem.  Hand has created a book that really shines with its strong setting of the family home where so much of the action takes place.  Hand’s descriptions bring the entire book to life as she paints a vivid picture for the reader.  What is amazing is that she has created a story with such depth in so few pages. 

The story is based strongly in reality, making the discovery of the tiny stage that much more special and strange.  The book is a beautiful realistic story with a strong thread of magic running through it.  This is helped by the romantic, beautiful writing that soars with detail. 

Some readers will find the two cousins in a romantic relationship to be confusing and startling.  Hand has woven this sort of deep feeling into the text in such a way that it feels very real, very honest.  This is not there for effect, rather it is an important, inherent part of their relationship and roles with one another.  Their closeness is deepened by their kinship.

A beautiful soaring novel in a tightly-written package, this book is sure to appeal to those who enjoy fantasy but also those readers looking for a great romance.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

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