"The landscape below is otherworldly - a massive clot of white-blue ice extending from shore to shore, frozen mounds of accumulated spray nearly sixty feet in height, sections of cliff face transformed by stalactities of ice as thick as the trunk of any tree. Yet there are children sledding on thehillocks, adults milling about, a path crossing the ice from shore to shore, also shanties with hand-painted signs advertising beef tea and sandwiches, coffee and cake."
Bess Heath lives near the mighty Niagara Falls where her father works as director of the Nigara Power Company. But when she returns home from boarding school for the summer she realizes all is not well. Her father has lost his job and her sister has taken to hiding in her room. Bess' only consolation in a world turned upside down is an encounter with a handsome green-eyed man who helps her load her baggage onto the trolley home. She's intrigued and later comes to know him as Tom Cole but society and her family seem set against their relationship. Cathy Marie Buchanan uses Niagara Falls as a backdrop to introduce a story of love and family, demonstrating how place can affect every aspect of a person's life.
It's obvious that Buchanan has put a lot of time and effort into the story. The amount of research and the level of detail when it comes to describing the setting and historical background of the area is staggering. There is so much packed into this book, especially when it comes to the setting that the reader really needs to pay attention to keep from missing anything.
Bess is forced to grow up too early when her family loses their status and position in society. Her struggle with the added responsibilities of adulthood make her a believable character. She has hopes and fears like anyone else but here they are front and center as she tries to hold her family together while developing a relationship with Tom. She makes mistakes, shows jealousy and loses her temper, all aspects that serve to make her more relatable to readers.
Peppered throughout the book are newspaper articles, photos and drawings that add depth to the story and really bring the history of the falls to life. The articles were especially entertaining as they were a great format for delivering backstory without the need for exposition.
I felt a bit mislead by the title though as I assumed the story would take place during the time the falls froze. Instead the story is set more than half a century later, only referencing the event in an article. I also thought the ending tied up too quickly. I wanted Bess' life expanded in order to create more of a contrast to the tense scene just before.
I should add that Cathy offered me a copy of her book, thank you! I had a great time reading it.