Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist

It Happened at the FairIt Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: A transporting historical novel about a promising young inventor, his struggle with loss, and the attractive teacher who changes his life, all set against the razzle-dazzle of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Gambling everything, including the family farm, Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the Fair’s Machinery Palace makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading.

The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris Wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?

My thoughts: The book details the Chicago World Fair and the society at the time. It's a good historical reference for reactions to the Industrial Revolution and the time period at the very beginning of the Great Depression. I wasn't as interested in the details of the exhibits although they set a tone by including the attendees reactions.

Cullen is suffering from a loss of hearing which seems to be getting worse when he meets Della, a teacher of lip reading to children. This was a nice twist to include Helen Keller's appearance at the World Fair as she was introduced into society as a contributing member. Also of interest was the way society viewed a person with any malady that set them apart from the norm. Deaf, blind, anxious, depressed, perhaps irritable bowels, or port wine stain would send a person to the asylum. Not Lindsay Lohan style but permanently. Sign language was not en vogue. In fact, the rage was to pretend deafness did not exist and teach lip reading alone. Children were sequestered for years without visits home to learn lip reading exclusively. Understandably, Cullen did not want to go deaf but if he did, he certainly did not want to end up in the asylum.

The book covers a time period that is at the cusp of forward-thinking. Machinery is making an appearance and inspires awe in the attendees. Automatic anything attracts interest if it can be proven which is Cullen's quandary.

The love story is predictable but sweet. It's clean and gives the reader a glimpse of the Chicago World Fair and the enormity of the event which lasted 6 months and consisted of gigantic semi-permanent buildings with inventions that are common to us today.

I didn't love the book like I'd hoped. I was not as interested in the details of the World's Fair but I've been to a World Fair so maybe my own exposure took the excitement out of reading about the Chicago Fair. Still, it's a pleasant way to spend an evening.

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