Set in Canada and for the most part in 1928, Arrivals is a well-written page-turner; the story of an unusual friendship between three young people, it’s a crime adventure and a successful mystery story too.
Teenager Ciara has returned to her grandfather’s house in Ontario with her father on the old man’s death. She misses her grandfather but is excited too because he has left her a real life mystery story to discover. Readers are already ahead of Ciara and know that the story concerns her grandfather as a twelve year old and his friends Will and Lucy. The three came from very different backgrounds but formed a close friendship in that summer long ago. Mike’s dad was the janitor at The Grove, a school for sons of the very wealthy and his family had moved from Dublin to Canada after the war, when Catholics who had fought for the British, as Mike’s dad did, found themselves regarded with suspicion or hostility by their neighbours. Will’s family were also Irish and from County Derry. Protestants, they were much wealthier, and his father ran a big steel company. Lucy was a member of Ontario’s Ojibwe tribe and grew up on the Otonabee Reserve with her mother, though she dreamed of being an artist. An encounter with the Grove’s bully Moose Packham, who felt himself entitled to lord it over each of them, brought them closer together. When Lucy became witness to a murder committed by Moose’s equally unprincipled father, the boys worked with her to expose him, a decision that could have changed their lives for ever.
The story of the friendship at the heart of the novel is well told and thoroughly convincing. The setting is fascinating and well realised too, conveying a real sense of the excitement of the late 1920s and of the looming changes to society. Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are the new superstars, old assumptions about class, status and even race are just beginning to be questioned. The children’s friendship allows the author to explore these issues, and religious intolerance too, but it is done subtly and as part of the story.