Until Niagara Falls

Jennifer Maruno, Dundurn Press, 2020

By Yara Sabolic

Until Niagara Falls is a young adult novel written by local author Jennifer Maruno. Maruno has written several other novels, and started writing in third grade! Until Niagara Falls is one of her latest novels, published by Dundurn Press in February of 2020, and is the novel that I will be reviewing today. 

Brenda is a carefree, happy tween who lives near Niagara Falls with her grandmother and father. Brenda is obedient and kind, she plays with her dolls, rides her bike during free time, and goes to the library. She has some usual fears—she is afraid of the dark—but some unusual ones as well–she is afraid of dog poop. The other key character, Maureen, however, is Brenda’s opposite. While Brenda is better off financially, Maureen’s parents can barely support their family. Maureen is street-smart, daring, rebellious, and fearless, living with a huge family who hardly pay any attention to her. These two very different school acquaintances slowly become friends, and Brenda starts to look up to Maureen because of her daring nature. Together they swim at the pool, volunteer at the library, spending all of their summer holidays side by side.  Soon, however, Brenda witnesses Maureen stealing her grandmother’s bracelet. That is when the story gathers speed and Brenda learns what kind of a person Maureen really is. Maureen becomes bossier, bullying Brenda, constantly making her feel like a baby. When Brenda attempts to get away from Maureen, Maureen starts to follow her everywhere. Brenda is unsure of what to do about her failing friendship, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out of the complicated situation. Although Brenda does not see it, the difficult circumstances are slowly transforming her from a naïve child to a more mature teenager. Will Brenda and Maureen’s  friendship fall apart, or stand until Niagara falls?

Jennifer Maruno has done something that not many other authors could do–she has written a novel that is not only enjoyable to read, but stays with the reader. Even now, days after finishing Until Niagara Falls, I still remember so very clearly Brenda’s fears, emotions, and thoughts. Maruno’s writing, while blunt, beautifully depicts the troubled friendship between the two girls from different worlds, and the pains of growing up. Until Niagara Falls is a must-read for anyone who loves complex stories about growing up, about family, friendships, and the ties that bind them together. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I did find a couple of things that did not sit well with me. I think that Maruno’s writing style can become a bit bland at times, and I found myself getting slightly bored in a few sections. Even though too many descriptions can be somewhat tedious, description play a crucial role in a novel as they help the reader  create an image in their mind’s eye. Maruno does not always provide more detailed descriptions of things such as settings, where they are needed. Another interesting addition that could have added complexity to the story would have been chapters from both Maureen’s and Brenda’s perspectives. The author leaves Maureen’s character and the circumstances of life, somewhat underdeveloped, which is why chapters from her point of view would help paint Maureen as a real person rather than a tool for Brenda to evolve. Having said this, I must say that I loved Brenda’s character, and that she was very well developed. She is sweet and naive, but also begins to develop the ability to stand up for herself, which makes her character arc so much more compelling. Lastly, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed immersing myself in Brenda’s and Maureen’s world and their coming of age.  This book is best suited for youth ages 9 – 12, and I will be recommending it to all of my friends! Jennifer  Maruno has truly written a fun and memorable novel which captures the struggles of growing up for two very different girls.

Cover Art for Until Niagara Falls by Jennifer Maruno