Rivet Boy by Barbara Henderson

Published by Pokey Hat, an imprint of Cranachan Publishing, 2023.

I love the type of historical fiction which transports you to another time and place and makes you feel as if you’re actually there and Rivet Boy does this brilliantly. Barbara Henderson vividly evokes the sights and sounds of the Forth Bridge construction site: the vertiginous heights; the clanging of metal; and the hollering of the briggers as they work. And what a perilous place to work it is! There’s the ever-present risk of falling to the water below, the virtually nonexistent safety precautions, the narrow walkways and the danger of burns from handling the hot rivets. Not to mention the added threat of the Murdochs: a ruthless and unscrupulous rivet gang with whom our 12-year-old hero John Nicol is assigned to work.

However, John has no choice but to work on the bridge: with his father gone, he must provide an income for his family – even if he is terrified of heights. John finds comfort in the new Carnegie library, his friend Cora and his squirrel companion, Rusty.

John’s adventure is a very engaging one. There are a number of tense action scenes during the book and this makes it a very gripping and exciting read. He’s a really likeable character and you root for him from the start.

I enjoyed the book’s mix of fact and fiction. The story is based on real-life events and inspired by the contemporary newspaper coverage that Barbara found during her research. Many historical figures feature in the story and I learnt a lot about Victorian engineering and the construction of the iconic Forth Bridge. I also liked the nod towards women’s liberation with the inclusion of Margaret Moir, the founder member of the Women’s Engineering Society, and the fact that young Cora is so fascinated by engineering and determined to become an engineer when she grows up.

This is a terrific story about finding courage, facing your fears and forging your own future. I recommend it.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Cranachan Publishing for sending me this book to review.

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