On her way home from graduation, Bess Heath happens upon a chance encounter with Tom Cole on the trolley platform, who helps her with her luggage. Thus begins an attraction between the two that’s as powerful as Niagara Falls, much to the Heath family’s dismay. While they were once a high ranking family in society, with the loss of Bess’ father’s job at the Niagara Power Company and her mother having to sew dresses for a living, they have been reduced in societal standing. Even still, they disapprove of their daughter’s infatuation with the boy. Bess is conflicted between her responsibility as a daughter to her family and her urge to follow her heart.
After reading Buchanan’s new book, The Painted Girls, and absolutely adoring it I knew I had to read her first book as well. The Day the Falls Stood Still is a coming of age novel about a young woman growing up in Niagara Falls in 1915 while the war is happening overseas and the technological progress is happening at home. Bess’ trials and tribulations from the fallout of her father losing his job reaches the extremes of severity. From having to adjust their lifestyle to dealing with more life altering circumstances, the Heath family is certainly put through the wringer.
While the narrative is captivating, there were times I wondered where the story was going. Buchanan does a great job of drawing the reader into Bess & Tom’s lives but there were moments that I thought, “okay… and???” I did like the character development with many of the supporting cast as well. Even though Tom & Bess were at the heart of the story, I felt the other people in their lives were also well fleshed out too. Another aspect I took note of in both this book and The Painted Girls is that there was a central familial focus on the sisters & mother dynamic. Both novels explored the relationship between sisters, as well as mother & daughters going through difficulties in their lives which I found both interesting, and relatable.
At the heart of it, The Day the Falls Stood Still is a love story and a life story – about Bess, about Tom and about the Falls. It read like an ode to the region that Buchanan grew up in, and it shows with the historical detail that was worked into the book.