Prairie Fire Review- A Terrible Roar of Water

Reviewed by: Donna Gamache

A Terrible Roar of Water

Penny Draper

A Terrible Roar of Water is the fifth novel in the Disaster Strikes series published by Coteau Books. A historical adventure series based on various Canadian disasters, the books are intended for children aged nine and up.

The new book is based on a tsunami that struck the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland in 1929. Caused by an undersea earthquake that registered 7.2 on the Richter scale, the tsunami created three huge waves along the southern coast. At speeds up to 100 kilometres per hour, the waves hit 78 small outport communities, devastating fifty of them--killing 28 people and leaving about 10,000 homeless. Communications were completely cut off for several days, and a winter storm slowed relief efforts as well.

A Terrible Roar of Water begins a few days before the disaster, and tells the story of twelve-year-old Murphy, who lives in a remote outport with his Aunt Rosie and Uncle Randall. Murphy's father had died at sea the very day Murphy was born and his mother, realizing that she could not support herself there, had left her son with her sister's family and moved to St. John's to become a telegraph operator. Murphy loves his life. He dreams of becoming a fisherman and building his own house and fishing stage so that his mother can return--but nobody thinks he is old enough to make this decision yet. When the tsunami strikes, however, it is up to Murphy to save his family, and to help with the terrible consequences of the giant waves.

Readers will be awed by the power of the tsunami and interested in factual details such as the house that floated out to sea and back again almost to the same place; the general store that was turned around but with nothing inside broken; and the baby who was saved from an upstairs room by men sinking a floating house so as to reach the top storey.

A Terrible Roar of Water is a skilful blend of fact and fiction. The book's main characters are fictional, but several real families and incidents are worked into the novel. My single concern with this book is the chapter where Mr. Inkpot relates a long story at a kitchen party. Although this does show one of the outport customs, it slows down the plot too much.

The Author's Note at the end includes details that help young readers determine what is fact and what is fiction. Perhaps a map and a few more explanations could have been included for readers not from Newfoundland.

Young readers who enjoy this book will want to check out the four previous books in the series, three of which were also written by Penny Draper: Terror at Turtle Mountain (the Frank Slide of 1903); Peril at Pier Nine (the Toronto Pier Nine fire of 1949); and Graveyard of the Sea (two shipwrecks off Vancouver Island in 1906.) The earlier books were all nominated for various awards, and it seems likely this one will be, too. 

Donna Gamache is the author of Spruce Woods Adventure (Compascore Manitoba) as well as many short stories for both children and adults.

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