1. The novel is set against the backdrop of Niagara Falls. Is it accurate to say that this natural wonder is a character in the novel? Why or why not?
2. In early-20th-century Ontario, distinctions in social strata created insurmountable boundaries between different groups. Yet Bess, her mother, and several other characters act against the conventions of their time. What compelled them? Would they face the same challenges today?
3. Edward's proposal presents both a challenge and an opportunity to Bess and her family. What did you think of her decision? What would you have done in similar circumstances?
4. The title of the book invokes a rescue made by Fergus Cole, Tom's grandfather, shortly after he arrived at Niagara Falls. Did you find Buchanan's decision to post newspaper clippings of Fergus's heroism effective? Was the force of his legend felt throughout the novel?
5. Although Bess and her family are Methodists, she and her sister attend a Catholic school for girls. What role does religion or belief play in the book? As the novel unfolds, how does Bess evolve spiritually?
6. A secondary theme in the novel pits the idea of conserving natural resources against the quest to harness them for economic and industrial development. Informed by her father's work experience at the power company and by Tom's allegiance to the river, Bess begins to understand both sides of the argument. Did her vote on the ballot measure surprise you?
7. Why is Tom able to predict the whims of the Niagara River? What would Bess say about his mysterious abilities? Does her explanation change over the course of the book?
8. Bess is angry with Tom after the ice bridge rescue, and lashes out at him after the scow rescue. Is her anger warranted? Why or why not?
9. Before abandoning the rope tethered to Jesse and plunging into the waters, Tom says, "Believe in me, Bess." What does he mean by this? Does he know how the events of the day will unfold?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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