New Brunswick author Robert Rayner is the author of three adult novels, nine young adult novels, and five teen novels. His latest young adult novel is Black Water Rising (2016, Nimbus Publishing). His books have been shortlisted for the Ann Connor Brimer Children’s Literature Award and (four times) for the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award. Six have been included in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre annual “Best Books” list, and one on the US Young Adult Library Services Association “Best Books to Get Teens Reading” list.
Captivating and Question-raising
Right out of the gate, Mr. Rayner gets us into the action: it is November and it has been raining for some few days. The Black River’s level is rising, threatening to flood its banks and the town in a few hours. Seventeen-year-old Stanton Frame is the son of Willis Frame, manager of the Black River Power dam. The dam is owned by TransNational Power who call the shots, including permission to open the dam to reduce flood levels. Stanton’s girlfriend is Jessica, an ardent environmentalist who has involved the eco-terrorist organisation EcoAction whose extreme actions may include the dynamiting of the dam. Willis has opened the dam against the wishes of head office but soon has to close it under threat of dismissal. The two girls from EcoAction, along with Jessica, are prepared to use drastic action to reduce the river level before the town is flooded. Stanton, conflicted between his father and his love for Jessica, soon gets caught up with Jessica and the caustic eco-terrorist girls Brynne and Callie:
Brynne said: “You planning on running to Daddy and telling him the nasty girls from EcoAction are plotting something?”
“Good, ’cause we got friends that will make you sorry if you do. That’s if Cal and me don’t get to you first.”
“Stanton’s on our side,” said Jessica, moving closer to him and clutching his arm. “Like I said.”
“And like Callie said he better be,” said Brynne.
Against this dramatic background, there are various questions that the author presents through the narrative: who is right, who is wrong? Is the power company really at fault for the flooding, or could it be other factors (as TransNational claims), like the clear-cutting of the forests going on up-river? Does Jessica really have Stanton’s best interests at heart, or is she using him for inside information regarding the dam? What about Fred Shingles, the octogenarian conspiracy-theory spouting survivalist with guns, ammo, food, water and dynamite stockpiled in his cabin? Why is Stanton’s mother seen secretly conferring with him? All of these questions and scenarios have arisen less than halfway into the book, setting up for what proves to be an intriguing climax.
Black Water Rising is a good story with conflicts experienced by both Stanton and Jessica, making it ideal reading for either sex. They might ask themselves: which side of the issue would they have taken? Which character do they identify the most with? Is eco-terrorism right? Is violence ever the solution? What are the dangers of mob mentality? These are the deeper themes of Black Water Rising, and sooner or later (if not already) the teen/young adult reader will need to face such issues in their lives. Author Robert Rayner has crafted a story worthy of reading and discussing, making this an ideal book for educators to consider using in their classrooms.