ARC Review: The High Climber of Dark Water Bay by Caroline Arden — An MG Historical Fiction Novel Personally Not for Me, but May Inspire Others

Hi guys! If you’ve been following my blog, you would probably know that my favorite genre is historical fiction. (I know, I read so much fantasy and love the genre so much, but my heart will lean towards historical fiction.) Today’s review is The High Climber of Dark Water Bay by Caroline Arden, which is a Middle Grade novel set in the Great Depression (a time period not really seen much in fiction). I hope you enjoy!

About the BookThe High Climber of Dark Water Bay

Twelve-year-old Lizzie Parker lived a comfortable life with her loving father until the stock market crashed and he took his own life. Now she lives with her older sister and money is tight. Lizzie is expected to help out, but she can’t even cook breakfast without burning something. How is she supposed to help pay the bills? With little money coming in, Lizzie’s sister decides it may be best to send her to Seattle to live with an aunt, whom Lizzie never met. Then a letter arrives from Lizzie’s uncle in British Columbia. He and his family are living in a logging camp, and he’s willing to pay Lizzie to be a summer governess for his two sons. Lizzie has never spent a night away from home, let alone in the woods. With few options left to her, Lizzie accepts the offer, but when she shows up at camp, her uncle and his family are gone. Without money for a return trip, she must fend for herself amid rough-talking loggers and a perilous wilderness. As Lizzie adjusts to this new life, she tries to find out what happened to her uncle, but if she’s not careful something bad may happen to her out in the woods.


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2 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free physical ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, so when I first heard of The High Climber of Dark Water Bay, I wanted to read it. It’s a Middle Grade historical fiction set in the Great Depression, a time period that is often overlooked in modern historical fiction, especially with World War II overshadowing the early 20th century. When I started Arden’s debut novel, I was expecting a lot of action and adventure and even a bit of suspense. Unfortunately, The High Climber of Dark Water Bay didn’t rise up to my expectations–it fell a bit short for me. Although the story became enjoyable in sections towards the end, overall it just did not click for me. The story was not bad, but it wasn’t the best historical fiction book I’ve read.

The High Climber of Dark Water Bay is a story of persistence as a young girl attempts to escape the camp she is being held prisoner by the boss. As Lizzie tries to overcome her “uselessness” (since she feels like she is a burden to others) by working hard labor and even learning how to high climb up trees, she realizes the true potential of her capabilities. She becomes stronger as she receives continual support from the workers who truly care for her and view her as not just a “little girl” but a “strong-willed woman.” I am sure that many young readers who read Lizzie’s story will find themselves inspired to pursue their goals despite the trials and opposition they face.

However, I didn’t feel very emotionally connected with Lizzie. At times, I felt like I was reading words off the page rather than actually living and breathing the story. I wanted more action and adventure since it was set in the woods, but readers won’t see the title being fulfilled (when Lizzie actually does any high climbing) until the 2/3-point, which I really wanted to see more of. The setting definitely did a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the Great Depression–it was very bleak–although I wish there was more of the historical aspect in the story. In addition, I didn’t feel like there was much action that helped built up to Lizzie’s escape. Her “capture” felt very abrupt and confusing, and the movement towards her gaining freedom was a bit slow in my opinion. The ending didn’t satisfy me too much, but it did make sense (and I’m happy for Lizzie for making that choice though). As I said before, The High Climber of Dark Water Bay is not a bad book, but it could have been better… at least that’s for me.

I would say that The High Climber of Dark Water Bay is great for reluctant readers trying to get into historical fiction. It’s very short, so for many people it would be a fast and easy read. While it personally may not be the best book I’ve read, I think many readers would enjoy this story of hope, perseverance, and empowerment.

Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ.” — Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassanti

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