4 out of 5 stars
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Two students, cavalier Ben and perfectionist Esther, do not like each other. They have sat side by side in their engineer program for four years when, just a few weeks shy of graduation, they are forced together for a final project in historical fiction novel Andrew Palmer’s The Bridge. This powerful coming of age story weaves together the lives of two men and two women learning hard lessons over 100 years apart, calling to mind young adult classics such as Walk Two Moons. When Ben and Esther uncover the personal journal of an inexperienced Victorian engineer, they must question their own morals, each learning from one another and Alec Durand, the engineer on the site of the original Quebec Bridge.
The fictional tale of Ben and Esther and the historically accurate account of the 1907 Quebec Bridge collapse intertwines awkwardly at first but then with increasing ease throughout the novel. Though the story begins clumsily, and characters Ben and Esther can come off as two dimensional you will find yourself identifying with both. Ben and Esther’s chemistry make them easy to love, and root for. Ben’s ignorance of his own generational trauma and the consequences of his apathy conflicts with Esther, a bright and introspective girl whose wisdom propels Ben to view his own life and relationships through a different lens.
Their story may seem juvenile when compared to the story of the ambitious but inexperienced Alec Durand, a strong and silent man who is doing his best to work his way up in the world. Alec struggles with confidence as he strives to provide the love of his life with everything he thinks she needs, and in the process loses sight of the most important things. You watch with horror as his trust in his superiors and obsession with success leads him down a path that ends in lives lost. His supportive and loving wife Ginette watches as he struggles – first to prove himself, then to find himself.
I rate this novel four out of five stars; I found it was sometimes clumsily written - especially the first two pages which I had the most trouble with the imager and I thought the characters came off slightly flat at first. However, I was not able to put the book down and found that I identified with and cared for each character as a friend. Ben and Esther's assignment struck me as odd, until the bittersweet ending pulled the story together so beautifully, it filled me with gratitude and renewed sense of right and wrong. I enjoyed Ginette's story the most because of its subtlety, but found myself in Esther's perfectionist tendencies, Ben's struggle to strive for success under the pressure of his family history, and Alec's obsession with providing for his family. The heart-breaking stories of those who perished and those who survived left me on the edge of my seat as I simultaneously watched two young students decide who they would become. I felt the story showed me a glimpse of a world I had never considered and made me understand the importance of engineers and the roles they play in society. The novel did an excellent job of tying in the integrity of the profession with the life lessons we all must learn.
The importance of kindness, courage, and integrity come together beautifully in this novel that prove that while times may change- important lessons do not. Through these two stories we learn the price of ambition without sense of duty, and the significance of accountability in every step and every aspect of our lives.
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