book review: it happened at the fair, deeanne gist
Title: It Happened at the Fair
Author: Deeanne Gist
Category: Christian historical fiction
Publisher: Howard Books; April 9, 2013
Starred Review: 4 stars
The amount of knowledge I have about the Chicago World’s Fair and Exhibition in 1893 is limited to the book Devil in the White City. This wonderful romance definitely doesn’t expose that much of the dark side of the fair, thankfully. Instead, as usual with Deeanne Gist’s Christian romances, It Happened at the Fair is an engaging story set in an exciting and alive historical period.
I’ve read several of Gist’s novels, and I’ve loved each of them. She has this great ability in bringing a time period to life. In this one especially, I really felt as though I was walking around the World’s Fair with her characters. It helped that the story was accompanied by photos, too, but I didn’t need them. The research that she must have done for the book! Everything was spot on and detailed and described very well.
As always, Gist’s characters are fantastic. They’re well-developed, round, and whole. They have their strengths and their flaws, and neither overpowers the other. I appreciate a good character, people I can relate to, who I could fall in love with or be best friends with.
Our hero is Cullen, a farmer from North Carolina who shouldn’t be a farmer. He has allergies. He’s hard of hearing. He likes working with his hands, taking things apart and putting them back together again. He heads off, reluctantly, to the World’s Fair with an invention of his: an automatic fire sprinkler system. It’s a time period where these alarms and sprinklers are manual. Someone has to smell the smoke, see the fire, and pull the sprinkler on to douse it. But Cullen’s worked on an automatic system for years. His father has faith that he can sell it. Cullen is less optimistic, but he goes to the fair anyway. His biggest problem is with his hearing. Already suffering from difficulty hearing, the noises and loudness of the exhibition hall has made it even worse.
It never occurred to me that in this time period there was such prejudice against the deaf, but that’s what Cullen runs into. He knew that he would, which is why he hides his problem, but that doesn’t make it easier. What does happen is that he runs into Della, a working woman who helps run a school for deaf children that focuses on lip-reading, not sign language. In fact, one of the biggest issues in the book is the idea of lip-reading versus signing. I didn’t know that this was a concern at one point or, if I did, how much of a concern it was. This school taught lip-reading exclusively, teaching deaf children as though they are hearing children, as though they were “normal.” It doesn’t seem to me like that would be successful.
Anyway, I’m drifting off subject. The fact is, Cullen comes to Della to learn lip reading. Their relationship is real and easy. Sure, there are things that come between them (aren’t there always?) and there are misunderstandings and difficulties, but they work well together. Gist is really good at believable, fun, and engrossing romance. It’s why I read her books.
It Happened at the Fair is great. The setting is alive, the characters relatable and real, the romance exciting, and the overall feeling and emotion spot on. I liked that she chose the World’s Fair, that she incorporated such a fascinating topic as hearing problems, that she researched everything so much (read the author’s note at the end for more information on everything she discovered), and that it was a fun, easy, and quick read. It was just what I needed in January.