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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review of "Walking Mountain" by Terry Cassidy

   3 Stars

This YA historical novella is set in April of 1903 in Frank (in what is now Alberta).  Two young people, Burt Delaney and Laura Freeman, meet just days before the rockslide in which 90 million tons of rock destroyed much of the town and killed at least 70 people.  That event changes their lives in several ways.

The rockslide is the pivotal event, and it is obvious that the author did considerable research into the Frank Slide.  Actual events such as the entrapment of 17 coal miners in tunnels under Turtle Mountain, the heroics of Sid Choquette, and the survival of Lillian Clark are woven into fictional ones.  The novel will undoubtedly have more than one reader researching this disaster.

Sometimes there is perhaps too much history.  Burt’s uncle gives a lengthy summary of the Northwest Rebellion; names like Louis Riel, Poundmaker, Big Bear, and William Otter are mentioned.  This account serves little purpose except to contrast Canadian and American history.  Laura’s letter to her parents, though its formal tone is explained, reads like a history lesson about the effects of the slide.

The relationship between Burt and Laura is developed well and in keeping with societal standards at the time.  When Burt invites Laura to dinner in a restaurant, her brother is also included; they address each other as Mr. Delaney and Miss Freeman; physical contact is minimal; and any suggestion of a romantic relationship has them blushing.

Both Burt and Laura are well-developed characters, though I have one problem with Laura.  There are inconsistencies in her portrayal.  When Burt mentions he once lived in Minneapolis, Laura says her home town is “’not glamorous like Great Falls or Minnea . . . whatever you said’” (14), and later, she stumbles over the word “collaborating” (81).  Yet we learn that she is an avid reader (26) and at one point compares the rockslide to “that poem by Lord Byron about the Assyrian army being swept over by the Angel of Death” (67)?  Are we to see her fumbling dialogue as a sign of nervousness?

Burt has been estranged from his father and stepmother for years and the reason for that estrangement is clear.  Considering the circumstances, Burt’s feelings are totally understandable.  At the end, however, there is a change in that relationship which I did not find convincing.  Burt’s trauma is certainly a motivation for his behaviour, but he says only that “’I did some thinking today, and most of it was about how I wasn’t thinking too straight before’” (83).  He has an epiphany in the mine (61 – 62) but it is not sufficiently developed when contrasted with the amount of bitterness expressed earlier.  More problematic, Burt’s explanation for his stepmother’s actions (92) seems glib.

The novel starts slowly, but gains momentum.  It provides an interesting perspective of a Canadian disaster and has the requisite conflict and suspense, along with a romance element.