Residents of the West Coast know it is only a matter of when – not if – a large-scale earthquake will happen. In her debut novel, B.C. author Maggie Bolitho imagines the catastrophe through the eyes of a North Vancouver teenager.
Rowan Morgan is an athletic, restless 15-year-old who dreams of breaking free from her father, an RCMP officer with a penchant for taking emergency preparedness to extremes. With 25,000-litre underground water and propane tanks, a cellar full of non-perishable food, and an electric fence surrounding his house, Tony is ready for anything. But when a 9.5 magnitude earthquake hits just off Vancouver Island, Rowan and her brother Michael have to defend their father’s compound from unprepared, desperate neighbours.
Earthquake aside, the novel starts off on shaky ground with an unlikely incident that leaves Rowan and Michael home alone to fend for themselves: Tony is accidentally shot and hospitalized after allowing a 13-year-old neighbour to clean his gun. Having established that Tony is a paranoid safety freak, it is confounding that he would hand over his gun to a minor.
Unfortunately, this is only one of several inconsistencies that plague the novel. For instance, Rowan urges constant secrecy about her father’s supply cache, but then announces, unprompted, to a suspicious paramedic, “We’ve got tons of food and water.” She also thinks about how cold and callous her father was after she was brutally assaulted as a young girl, but then blindly idealizes him as a gentle giant, wishing “he could hold me like he did when I was a kid.”
With such whiplash character pivots, it is difficult to become invested in the storyline. While Bolitho’s debut packs plenty of fault-line flash, no disaster scenario is so enthralling that it negates the need for well-
developed, believable characters.