Sixteen-Year-Old Celstia spends every summer with her family at the elite resort at Lake Conemaugh, a shimmering Allegheny Mountain reservoir held in place by an earthen dam. Tired of the society crowd, Celestia prefers to swim and fish with Peter, the hotel’s hired boy. It’s a friendship she must keep secret, and when companionship turns to romance, it’s a love that could get Celestia disowned. These affairs of the heart become all the more wrenching on a single, tragic day in May, 1889. After days of heavy rain, the dam fails, unleashing 20 million tons of water onto Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in the valley below. The town where Peter lives with his father. The town where Celestia has just arrived to join him. This searing novel in poems explores a cross-class romance—and a tragic event in U. S. history.
To elaborate, the multiple narrations were by Maura, Kate, Celestia, Peter, and Whitcomb. Maura was a young mother struggling to raise four children while her husband worked on the railroad. Her struggles to escape the flood with her family is empowering and awe-inspiring. Kate, a tough nurse, who has already faced death, is a character that meets up with all the other narrators at some point and even saves their lives. Celestia, a “rich” girl struggling to make her family understand her love for the “hired” boy is a great character. She doesn’t care about social class and wants her family to be together more than anything else. Peter, the love interest, is another great character- I loved him myself by the end. He was perfect for Celestia and their romance was well developed and real. Whitcomb, the final narrator, is Celestia’s father. He doesn’t have a huge role until the end, but his heartbreaking narration changes readers opinions of him from the beginning drastically. All in all, Richards did a terrific job of keeping the narrations easy to follow and developed each character perfectly. The reader gets very attached to the characters and they’ll definitely remain in my head for a long time.
The plot was extremely unique. I have never heard of the Johnstown Flood, much less read about it. Richards introduces readers to a time in our countries history rarely mentioned. Although the cast of characters are mainly fictional, she does portray this time in history quite accurately. Three Rivers Rising will attract both reluctant and veteran readers and I am definitely on the Jame Richards bandwagon now, I can’t wait to read more of her novels.
Keep in mind this was written in verse, one of my favorite writing styles and it perfectly fit this novel. The verse style helped capture emotions of the characters even more and made it a fast read. It wasn’t only a quick read because of the verse style, but also because it was hard to put down. By the time the story was going hour by hour on the day of the flood I couldn’t stop reading. I’ve already passed this book onto my mom, and will be sure to recommend it to my friends when it’s released. This is definitely one I’ll be picking up a finished copy of to add to my collection. A debut novel I wasn’t sure about at first, Three Rivers Rising surpassed all my expectations and more.
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars