This marking period my seniors are focusing on environmental and engineering disasters. We just read Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and our next book is David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood. When I received a review copy of Jame Richards’ Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood over the summer, I knew I would want to read it closer to when we were focusing on the Johnstown Flood disaster. Over the holiday weekend I finished the book and I can not wait to share it with my seniors. I plan to make it our read-aloud this marking period because it will be such a great companion piece for McCullough’s book, especially as Richards was inspired by McCullough’s book to write Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood.
Told in verse, from five different perspectives, Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood does not overly focus on the disaster itself. Instead, it takes the history and helps the reader imagine what life was like for the people who experienced the dam burst and subsequent flood. For the most part, the reader follows Celestia, an upper-class girl who falls in love with a local boy, Peter. Maura is a young mother struggling to raise four children while her husband, Joseph, works on the railroad. Her struggle to escape the deluge with her children is awe-inspiring and tear-inducing. I really liked Kate, a tough nurse (who has lost her childhood love to drowin), who meets up with all the other characters at some point and even saves their lives. The verse captures each characters emotions perfectly and the varied perspectives allow the reader to see the disaster from different viewpoints.
The Johnstown flood killed 2200 people, but I have never read any YA historical fiction about this horrible engineering disaster. However, I also think this historical fiction novel will appeal to readers who shy away from historical fiction, because it is light on facts and heavy on story. The events of the flood are woven into the fabric of the characters’ lives and you never feel like you are reading a historical account. Instead, you feel like you know each character and are just hearing their story. Teens and MG readers will readily point out the similarities to Hurricane Katrina (unidentified bodies, sickness spreading, the flood itself, the upper-class reaction) and Three Rivers Rising would be a fabulous read aloud or literature circle book. I imagine that the conversations that would stem from this book would be stellar. I plan to find out when I begin reading it with my seniors tomorrow!
*review copy courtesy of publisher