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Safe as Houses    by Eric Walters order for
Safe as Houses
by Eric Walters
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Eric Walters, author of the sensitively written 9/11 YA novel, We All Fall Down, addresses a historical Canadian catastrophe in Safe as Houses. On October 15, 1954 in Weston, a suburb of Toronto, Hurricane Hazel caused horrendous flooding, that swept away houses (hence the book's ironical title), killed eighty-one people, and left over four thousand homeless. Though this story and the characters are fictional, it is based on fact.

Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth has taken on the afterschool job of escorting home small Suzie McBride and her older (grade 6) brother David, the latter resenting both his family's recent move out of Toronto and the babysitter. Lizzie typically stays until the siblings' parents return from work in the city. It's pouring rain that day as they return to the McBride's new (still unfinished inside) home on the Humber River, David being his usual argumentative self. They're shocked at how high the river is - and at the items being washed down it. The McBrides call to say they expect to be late, and Elizabeth prepares food for the trio and the family dog Daisy.

As the evening progresses, their situation steadily worsens. The McBrides can't get home, the water rises steadily, and Lizzie's mother worries about her ... but everyone tells the kids they're safe as houses. Unfortunately, that turns out to not be the case at all! They lose electricity and telephone and the water keeps rising. It feels like 'being on a ship, on a stormy sea' and responsible Lizzie is the captain. Fortunately, the ever difficult David rises to this occasion, morphing into a reliable first mate. Together, they work out what to do as the floodwaters push them higher and higher in the house - and eventually, at great risk, outside it.

Though exhausted and terrified, Lizzie and David work together and use every ounce of ingenuity they have to keep themselves, small Suzie and Daisy safe. Once the flood gets going, it's a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat read with a big question mark - who will and won't make it? Open up Safe as Houses to see how people of all ages can, and do, cope - and perform acts of heroism - under great pressure.

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