Summary: Ruby Carson is a teenager living in the 1960s with some unique challenges. Her brother, Percy, is highly sensitive, a near-drowning at a skating party gave her a vision that seems to be coming true, and the town she grew up in is about to be under water. Her best friend Sarah has recently moved away, so Ruby is left to deal with everything on her own. Things are further complicated by the fact that the townspeople are angry about having to sell their land to the government, and Ruby finds herself coming of age during a very uncertain time.
Number of Pages: 270
Age Range: 16-18
Review: Set in the 1960s with a cast of vivid characters, Riel Nason explores the gradual disintegration of a town that is about to be at the bottom of a new lake.
This is a richly detailed journey through a young woman’s perspective, and the story flows like a gentle river as the reader watches a catastrophe unfold in slow motion. I loved the complexity of the relationships among the townspeople, especially the way Mr. Cole relates to Ruby and her family, and the variety of reactions the characters had to their situation.
As for the sibling relationship between Ruby and Percy, Ruby is a typical sibling dealing with a special needs brother, and she is honest about how it both positively and negatively affects her life. Even when she is annoyed and frustrated by Percy’s behaviour, she still harbours a deep love for him that is evident through her actions.
I like the theme of identity that runs through the book. Ruby has been typecast as being weird at her school because of a near drowning where she experienced a vision. Because of the teasing she receives, Ruby is convinced no one will see her as anything other than weird. Nason skillfully points out through her narrative that sometimes all it takes is one person to see you in a new light to change your perspective. Ruby matures gracefully as the town around her is demolished, and having that different perspective helps her do so.
I also appreciated Nason’s talented use of foreshadowing through Ruby’s vision. When her vision began to come true, I got chills because I was so afraid of what could be coming next. Even though I had read this book before, the ending still surprised me.
I would recommend The Town That Drowned for older teens and adults. It’s haunting and memorable, and simply a lovely read.
“Everyone thought Percy was so different when he was really all about being the same.” – from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 14
“Weird is a disease and once you have it you have it. I’m fourteen years old and infected for good. There’s no miracle cure. There’s no special prescription. I am quarantined all along on the Island of Odd. It’s a chronic condition. A lifelong affliction.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 25
“Between my parents and Sarah I’m always hearing how a double dose of social comprehension since obviously none was given to Percy. I think I’m this way because compared to the effort involved in trying to decipher the complex puzzle that is my brother, figuring out everyone else seems easy.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 42
“I sit in the backseat with Percy and look over at him from time to time, wondering what he’s thinking. We see some of this from the school bus every day, but I figure this grand tour is more of the ‘easing him in’ that I hear my parents talk about at night. Percy isn’t saying anything, but he doesn’t have a book with him, so he’s forced to look out the window. Maybe their plan is working. I know it’s working on me. As we drive around now I realise that nothing seems too shocking anymore. I hope I can feel this way when our house is on the back of a truck or going up in flames.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 145
“I believe I may have just witnessed a miracle take place. So I remind myself to be positive. Enough with expecting imminent disaster. Maybe my time for happiness has finally come.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 162
“Let me say now if this happens, there will be casualties. I knew it, had known it, but didn’t want to, didn’t let myself. If someone you know starts talking only about the past and not the future, and gives away the things they have owned, touched, sentimentalized, given meaning to in this life, says goodbye to people, but then leaves without telling, has you clean their whole house so at least that won’t tarnish their memory – something bad is coming.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 197
“We’re living on borrowed time, in borrowed space. Our whole existence now is a freak of nature. The fact that Troy and his father were here, even temporarily, in our valley of change, seems like it could be a figment of my imagination.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 207
“Plus, the thing that really, really annoyed everybody, and absolutely confirmed that we weren’t invited to our own country’s big birthday bash, was the form at the back. It could be filled out if you had a hundred-year-old building that you wanted to mark with a historical plaque. Special centennial markers would be given to the owners of century homes so they could permanently display their significance. Mr. Foster said he doubted the plaques were waterproof. And several people said they were tempted to order a precious plaque so they could hammer it to their house just prior to its burning and see it melt in the flames.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, pages 213-214
“As far as Miss Stairs goes, my mother says lots of people have little hidden things about themselves, like an unseen birthmark, that you’d never know is there until something happens and the quirk expresses itself. Tragedy, sickness, death, accidents, you just never know. My mother also says the stress of the flood coming probably made Miss Stair’s situation worse – but at least it gave her a reason to seek help. You never know what some people are capable of, she says – until they are given a test, for better or worse. Unexpected problems bring unexpected results.” – from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 223
“I’m going because I think it’s something I’ll regret if I don’t. It’s part of this story I’m telling. We’re getting down to the end of all this now. There are last things to be done and remembered. This year the dance isn’t only for saying goodbye to people who are leaving, but also to the school, which will be demolished after graduation. I know it’s just a dance, but it feels important. I’ll go and stand by the wall. In a week I’ll be sixteen years old. I can do it. Somehow it’s like proof that I made it through. Years from now, I want to be able to say I was there.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 230
“And then I think about what Troy said. It’s something I’ve probably known for a while. I think I’m fine and it’s just the people in this place that distort me, like a reflection in the river, altering my image.
Sometimes different is a good thing.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 237
“I think Percy isn’t so much selfish as he is self-centred. I think selfish means putting yourself first at the expense of others – deciding to consider only yourself. But for Percy I don’t know that it’s ever a decision. It’s just the way he is.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 246
“I’m only letting myself worry until the water comes. That’s my promise to myself. And what I repeat in my head again and again. After the flood the river will be different, soaking up bits of old land, old memories. It will be bigger, bolder. It will sidle up beside us like someone wanting to be our new friend.” – Ruby from The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, page 256