When the Hill Came Down by Susan White

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New Brunswick author Susan White writes great stories, suitable for young adult readers on up. Past reviews here at TMR include Fear of Drowning, The Memory Chair and Waiting for Still Water. Fine stories all, and I highly recommend them. Now, PEI’s Acorn Press has released her latest, When the Hill Came Down, a story about loss, jealousy, childhood abuse/misuse, love, and redemption. Let’s look at the synopsis. (Note there may be what some consider to be spoilers ahead!)

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

The Barkley family have just moved back to Long Reach on the Kingston Peninsula in New Brunswick from Fredericton. They have recently lost their son in a freak accidental death and Summer, their teen daughter must now adjust to a new place, a new school and her grieving parents. The other main protagonist is Keefe Williams, the target of bullies, as he often misses school due to his Uncle’s farming him out to the community as a hired hand. Of course, the Uncle pockets the money and gives Keefe the bare minimum to get by. Keefe lost both his parents when he was just a baby, due to the hill behind their house collapsing in torrential rain and destroying the house. Keefe’s mother, in a moment of desperation, throws him out a window to be saved by rescuers before she herself is buried alive in mud.

Thus, the story is dramatically staged from the outset. Summer and Keefe become friends, as they are both outcasts of sorts. However, there is a deep and tragic backstory to be told, and a family history that Keefe doesn’t want to face. Undeterred, Summer eventually gets his permission to delve into the Williams family history, as she sees it as a way to get closure for Keefe and resolve alienation from his living kin.


“It is easy to look at the past and clearly see what you should have done, but at the time it is never straightforward. It is complicated. Of course you have regrets, but what happened is not your fault. The past cannot be changed. It has unfolded as it has and there is no point torturing yourself about it.”

At this point, Ms. White writes another story within a story, that of how Keefe’s mother and her sister became estranged and why his aunt was so hateful to Keefe as she raised him. This takes us back to the year 1929 where we meet Helen and Vera Cronk (Vera will eventually become Keefe’s mother). The story then moves forward in a chronological way until the reader arrives in the early 90s.

As I mentioned at the outset, Ms. White writes good stories, and When the Hill Came Down is no exception. Her storytelling has a natural seriousness about it; very grounded, with characters that could well be drawn from real life. The situations that the protagonists (and even the antagonists like Keefe’s Uncle Tom) encounter are full of life lessons, making her stories trustworthy and wholesome. For instance, Summer tells Keefe’s cousin Margaret (Tom and Helen’s daughter) who is sorry that she never looked out for Keefe over the years:


“It is easy to look at the past and clearly see what you should have done, but at the time it is never straightforward. It is complicated. Of course you have regrets, but what happened is not your fault. The past cannot be changed. It has unfolded as it has and there is no point torturing yourself about it.”

One really cannot go wrong with reading or recommending a Susan White novel to readers of any age, and so it is with When the Hill Came Down.


About the author: Susan White was born in New Brunswick and moved from one New Brunswick city to another. As a teenager, her family moved to the Kingston Peninsula and she only left long enough to earn her BA and BEd at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. Settling on the peninsula, she and her husband raised four children and ran a small farm while she taught elementary school. Since retiring she is grateful to now have the time to work on her writing. She has been shortlisted twice for the Mrs. Dunster’s Fiction Book prize.

  • Paperback : 300 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1773660519
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1773660516
  • Publisher : Acorn Press (July 10 2020)

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. Started in 2015, The Miramichi Reader strives to promote good Canadian books, poets and authors, as well as small-press publishers, coast to coast to coast. James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife and their dog.

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