Catholic-Protestant tensions rise along with the Ohio River in this historical novel.
On New Year’s Day 1937, 14-year-old Pete, a Catholic white boy (all characters are white) living in Ironton, Ohio, alongside the Ohio River, accidentally outs his older brother Gus’ girlfriend as a Protestant whose parents are divorced. The resulting rift lasts for weeks. A warm, wet winter causes the Ohio to flood to historic levels; as the waters rise, Gus and his father leave to battle the river with sandbags while Pete stays home to care for his mother and younger siblings. When the rescue efforts are abandoned, Pete’s father returns to the family—but Gus doesn’t. Told first from Pete’s then from Gus’ points of view, the story suffers from lack of plot and characterization. All of the action centers on the flood. The boys’ mother is astonishingly ineffective—seemingly unable to take any concrete action, relying on her 14-year-old son to make all decisions in her husband’s absence—and the minor characters, predominantly younger siblings, lack depth. The book is a hybrid—its characters are YA-age range, but the story feels more appropriate to middle graders; it’s not tense enough for an action story but not tied so tightly to the past that it reads strongly as historical fiction—and it will have trouble attracting readers.
A misstep for Wiechman, who has done better. (Historical fiction. 8-12)