CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 14. . . .March 6, 2009
Toronto, ON: Puffin/Penguin, 2009.
278 pp., pbk., $7.99.
Niagara Falls (N.Y. and Ont.)-Juvenile fiction.
Children of alcoholics-Juvenile fiction.
Adventure and adventurers-Juvenile fiction.
Teenage boys-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Myra Junyk.
***½ / 4
Some of the locals didn't like the tourists crowding everywhere. Some of the tourists could be really annoying, but I knew we had to be grateful. If the Falls didn't attract them – and then bore them – people like my mother wouldn't have jobs. She was a blackjack dealer at the casino. So I guess those tourists put food on our table and a roof over our heads. I knew that – and I knew what it was like to have neither. We lived here because those people, those tourists, just kept on coming, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year… to see some water falling over some rocks.
At the age of 15, Jay Hunter yearns to find a way to leave his hometown of Niagara Falls! His mother, a recovering alcoholic, works in the casino. His father was killed when Jay was a small child. Although Jay is struggling in school, he dreams of one day becoming a structural engineer. He attends mother's five-year free of alcohol anniversary at Alcoholics Anonymous, but Jay is having difficulty with his own addictions. He gets violently ill after a drinking binge and decides to start attending meetings for teens whose parents are alcoholics. When his mother finally tells him about his father and his father's family, Jay discovers that his great-grandfather was a great river man and hero of Niagara Falls. Jay gets a job at a museum of Niagara Falls history where he decides to build his own barrel to go over the Falls. Will he survive his reckless behaviour?
Walters does a good job describing what it would be like to actually live in Niagara Falls: "I could sort of understand that people might want to see it, but living here you soon realized that it was nothing more than some water falling over some rocks and kicking up a bunch of mist." Jay has a love/hate relationship with his hometown. He enjoys the beauty of the Falls and the money that comes from the tourist industry. However, he cannot understand the appeal of the site for all those people who visit each year.
This novel explores some very interesting aspects of the Niagara Falls community such as the geography of the area, the role of casinos in the economy, the role of electronic surveillance at those casinos, as well as the search and rescue techniques used by emergency response workers in the area. When Jay works at the museum, he starts to build an appreciation for the history of the area and the role that his own great-grandfather played in that history.
Jay is an appealing hero who learns a great deal about himself during the course of the novel. Readers will be drawn to his struggles between wanting to have a good time and working toward a better future. However, Jay's rash decision to build a barrel to go over the Falls seems to come out of nowhere. Readers may have a hard time understanding exactly why he made this decision.
Eric Walters provides readers with some powerful insights into addiction, family relationships and independence in The Falls. "Nobody in the whole history of the world has had everything go right. Nobody lives a perfect life. The winners aren't those who never fall down, but those who get back up after they fall and keep going."
Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.
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