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*Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood* by Jame Richards- young adult book review  
Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood
by Jame Richards
Grades 8+ 304 pages Knopf April 2010 Hardcover    

A free-verse historical novel, Three Rivers Rising is set against the backdrop of the Johnston Flood of 1889. The story centers on Celestia, a 16-year-old girl whose wealthy family spends the summers at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club on the Lake Conemaugh reservoir.

Celestia falls in love with Peter, a working-class boy employed by the club. When her parents discover their relationship, Celestia is strictly forbidden to ever see Peter again, and plans are made for her to attend finishing school in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Celestia’s older sister, Estrella, becomes entangled in her own summer romance – with a powerful, much older gentleman at the club. When Estrella becomes pregnant and the man takes no responsibility, Celestia’s relationship with Peter becomes inconsequential by comparison as the family disowns Estrella and sends her off to Europe with her aunt.

In subplots, two other voices in the Johnstown area have their own stories to tell. Kate, whose only true love died in a drowning accident, becomes a nurse. Escaping a train at the time of the flood, Kate becomes a key source of medical help after the flood. Maura, the very young wife of a train driver, stays at home with her three children, longing for her husband and stopping at nothing to reunite their family after the flood. As the flood rages and the community recovers, their lives merge as all people in the area come together to help one another.

The flood begins at about the time when Celestia has decided to disobey her family and go into town to find Peter. The entire area has been warned about floods in the past – the reservoir needs some maintenance, the water levels are high each year – yet the dam always holds. Like the boy who cries wolf, no one takes the warnings seriously; when the dam finally breaks, no one is prepared.

Celestia eventually finds Peter and his father, both of whom are quite ill. As the flood crashes down upon their small home, they are separated, yet survive. Maura’s husband, based on a historical figure, is driving a train along the tracks which follow the river; he becomes the one source of warning to the community, blowing his train whistle in frantic caution.

Starting the reader out in understanding the physical layout of the land, train tracks, rivers and lakes, the book begins with a drawn map of the flood area in Pennsylvania. The narrative is then divided into sections, beginning with the summer season of 1888 when Celestia meets Peter. The setting location begins each chapter heading, with the name of the person speaking indicated by another subheading.

When the flood arrives, the book is further subdivided into the hour and minute of each day, accelerating the sense of immediacy and danger. Author Jame Richards’ carefully chosen, sometimes spare verse is an excellent medium for so many different voices – each perspective gives the reader a different story, and a unique view of the flood which is affecting everyone.

Most touching is the reaction of Celestia’s father. Although he disowns his daughters, fulfilling social expectations, in reality he does consider their well-being to be his highest priority – going to tremendous lengths to find and rescue Celestia and seeking the very best for Estrella. More than a survival story, Three Rivers Rising is a story of social class divisions, love and loyalty among friends and family, and a commentary on how civil engineering is vital to the safety of a community.

(Author’s note, chronology of the dam, resources for further reading)
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Kristine Wildner/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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