If you're one of my faithful followers, than you're no stranger to Kathy Wiechman's historical fiction for middle grades. I'm proud to review her newest book, NOT ON FIFTH STREET (Calkins Creek, 2017), a fictionalized account of the flood of the Ohio River in 1937.
Two feuding brothers + one record-breaking flood = a fast paced middle grade book for boys and girls they won't be able to put down.
|After you read the book you'll understand |
why this is a perfect cover.
The ReviewThirteen-year-old Pete doesn't understand why his big brother, Gus, has become more interested in a girl named Venus than spending time with him and their friend Richie. They had been the Three Musketeers up until Gus met Venus. On top of that, a New Year's dinner where Venus is the guest goes sour and it's all Pete's fault.
Then the rain starts. Within days the mighty Ohio river is rising and the folks in Ironton, Ohio fear flooding. Pete looks at the river and thinks,
...out in the middle, the river surged like a fierce animal, whipping into waves that rose and hurried downriver. A tangle of branches floated past, carried in the swift current. Were they branches from an Ironton tree? Or had they traveled all the way from Pittsburgh?
Pete looked at houses and imagined them with muddy water up to the second-floor windows and people using rowboats to go places. He and Dad had fished on the river before. But that river was nothing like this wild, alive one. He hurried away as though it might reach out and grab him. (p. 32)Pete's father asks Gus to come with him to help out on the riverfront and Pete is devastated. He's the one who works around the house--not Gus, who would be rather reading Shakespeare and "who doesn't know which end of a shovel to hold." Why is he being left behind with the women and children?
Even though he's angry with his father and jealous that Gus was chosen to fight the flooding river, his practical knowledge of their home proves useful to his mother and two siblings. After he starts moving household items to higher ground his mother says:
"Your dad knew what he was doing, Pete, leaving you here to take care of things."
Was she right? Was that why Dad had taken Gus to the West End? Because he wanted Pete to take care of Mom and the kids and the house? Maybe Pete had been wrong about Dad. (p. 59)As the rain continues to fall and street after street is flooded, his worries increase over not hearing from his father and Gus. Where are they and why hadn't they been in contact? As he evacuates the family to the second floor the reader feels the impending doom, "He almost felt the river lapping at his heels as he kept moving." (p.86). The ticking clock of the rising river parallels Pete's growing anguish and remorse over his misunderstandings with Gus.
In the middle of the book, Kathy Wiechman switches over to Gus's point of view. In a manner in which I've never seen before, (and which she'll explain in my interview with her in next week's blog), Kathy begins Gus's POV from the time he leaves with his dad to work on the riverfront. It's a clever device that shows not only what some were doing to battle the rising river while others were trying to survive, as well as each brother's misconceptions and fears about the other.
At first Gus is thrilled to be chosen to do men's work. But after unending hours of filling sandbags, eating little, wearing soaking wet clothes, and blisters blooming on his hands, he feels like a chain-gang prisoner. He can't imagine that Pete really likes this kind of work. In fact, when he asks if his father shouldn't call home to tell his mother they're okay, his father replies,
"I don't have to worry about home," Dad said. "Pete's there. He can handle things as well as I can."Gus had been easing down to the floor as Dad spoke, but he landed hard when the impact of Dad's words hit him. Dad hadn't left Pete at home because Gus would be a good worker, or because Dad wanted to do something with Gus. Dad needed Pete at home because Pete was the reliable one. The one who can handle things as well as I can.
Julius Caesar couldn't have felt worse when Brutus stabbed him, Gus thought. (p. 139)
In a "love conquers all" moment, when the river continues to surge and the National Guard send the men home, Gus decides he must check on Venus, who lives on the other side of the river. The trip is perilous and Gus proves his mettle as he risks his life to help her family. While stranded at her house, Gus spends a lot of time thinking about his family, realizing what is important, and wanting to make things right with Pete.
Maybe reading to David (Venus's younger brother) was a way to push the rising water to the back of his mind. But the back of his mind was already filled with shame for the way he'd treated Pete. And regret for failing to tell Mom where Dad was. The flood wasn't his fault, but so much else was. (p. 198)
I've probably already given away too much of this fine story, but I'll just tell you this--the ending will bring sighs of relief and smiles to readers' faces.
|Navigating the flood in Kentucky|