Friday, July 2, 2010

The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield

In the summer of 1900, a meteorite lands on the day of Peg Staynor's baptism, barely missing the small church in rural Ontario. This, along with Peg's almost colorless eyes, is enough to resurrect a local superstition that will haunt Peg and her family for years. Many believe Peg to be a "river child," taken over by an evil spirit from the Magurvey River that winds its way through the town. Feared and shunned throughout her childhood, Peg is blamed for every misfortune, from drought to ailing livestock. When her mother, her fiercest protector, dies suddenly on the same day WWI is declared, young Peg must face not only the mistrust of the villagers, but of her father. His grief has driven him to take solace in drink and old superstition, leaving Peg with only her head-strong older sister, Sarah, for support. It will take the terrible reality of World War I to shake off the grip of old world beliefs. As the town's young men begin to return mentally and physically damaged, or not return at all, the sheltered atmosphere of the town is broken. A bright flame of change will sweep through everyone's lives, leading Peg into the future.

The characters, especially the secondary ones like the neighborhood gossip or the woman selling moonshine, are rather undistinguishable from those in a million other books, but Peg's character is more fleshed-out. It is easy for the reader to sympathise with her and wish for a happy ending (and the ending isn't too hard to predict). Issues such as superstition, small-town gossip, the ability to adapt, and the changes that come to a society when it is forced to respond to what is going on elsewhere are covered. Nothing earth-shattering, but an enjoyable way to spend your time. We give it a

4 out of 5.
This is a great summer read, with interesting characters and enough twists on old themes to keep it fresh. We found the idea of the river child intriguing, and were glad it didn't turn into some sort of implausibly supernatural element. The story moves at a pace that is relaxed, but never slow. Perfect for curling up in your beach chair under the sun (our favorite spot any time), or for reading a few chapters before bed.

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