Want a story that will grab you from the first sentence and hold your attention to the last? “Hold Back the Tide” by Melinda Salisbury is just such a read. It begins, “Here are the rules of living with a murderer.” And the suspense grows and grows as we keep reading, desperate to find out how the hero, our feisty, brave, selfless, and intelligent main character, fights to prevail against a life in which the cards all seem to be dealt against her.
Alva Douglass is the daughter of the keeper of the loch, in a small rural village in a time before electricity or telephones. Her father’s job is vague and yet important. However when Alva notices that the water level in the loch is low, and her father isn’t letting the owner of the mill know so that the mill can stop using vast quantities of water and preserve the water level in the loch, she doesn’t understand. The mill owner is as odious a man as has ever been created on paper. Giles Stewart is vain and arrogant, and he runs the small village through his power as the employer and landlord of most villagers. He is also the wealthiest resident. We learn early on that Giles was enamored of Alva’s mother and furious that she wed someone else. Giles is a truly despicable character, although his son Gavan is kind to Alva and considers her a friend.
Alva is frightened of her father, who she believes killed her mother when Alva was seven years old. Since her mother’s death, she has behaved perfectly, afraid that if she does anything wrong, her father will kill her, too. So she has created rules about how to behave and stay alive when living with a killer. But in spite of her fear, we see glimpses that her father isn’t the monster that she thinks he is.
The villagers shun Alva since her mother’s disappearance. They think her father is a killer but that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him. It’s a lonely life doing his bidding, and she saves money by transcribing documents for monks. Alva wants to leave their tiny hamlet and make a life of her own, away from her father. Working hard and walking twenty miles to repair nets isn’t the life she envisions for herself.
But when the loch is getting lower and lower by the hour, her father starts acting strangely. He disappears for over a day, leaving her locked in the house. He tells her to stay inside, but won’t tell her why. And then there is an attack on the hamlet, and all their horses are slaughtered by something. Two teenagers disappear. And Alva finally finds out the secrets that her father has been harboring all her life. Secrets about the loch and the generations of keepers of the loch and secrets about her mother’s disappearance. Will Alva be able to use her knowledge and her intelligence to save the villagers from what just might be a fate worse than death?
One of the fabulous aspects of Salisbury’s writing is the manner in which she creates a female main character who is more able, capable, and intelligent than the males in the story. At one point, when Alva, Gavan, and Ren, Alva’s childhood friend, are doing something dangerous, it’s Alva who carries the gun because the guys have never handled guns. Even at the end, Alva demonstrates bravery beyond that of most of the men, and additionally, she shows her generous and selfless nature.
The book is a quick read, in part because it’s a difficult book to put down. Young adult readers will enjoy the combination of historical fiction, action, and family relationships with a touch of romance and horror thrown in. Teachers and librarians will love the depiction of an admirable main character and a plot that doesn’t disappoint.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Scholastic Press, the publisher, for review purposes.