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A Coming of Age Historical Dystopian - an Editorial Review of "Downriver"

Updated: May 29

Downriver book cover

Book Blurb:

A historical coming of age saga of teenage girl's courage and triumph.

A sulfur sky poisoned her family and her heart. Now revenge tastes sweeter than justice.

It’s 1900. In a Pennsylvania coal town tainted by corruption and pollution, Charlotte's world collapses when her parents meet a tragic end. Sent to a foster family in a Maryland fishing village, she’s fueled by grief and embarks on a relentless quest for justice against the ruthless coal boss, Nels Pritchard.

But Charlotte is no ordinary girl. She shares the fiery spirit of her father, whose powerful speeches inspired worker riots. With a burning desire for vengeance, she sets out to uncover the truth behind Pritchard's crimes, unearthing a shocking connection between the town's toxic air and the lifeless fish washing up on the shore of her Chesapeake Bay foster town.

To expose the truth, Charlotte builds a network of unexpected allies. There are gutsy suffragists, a literary society of teenage girls willing to print the truth… and Weylan. The captivating young man lost his own family to Pritchard’s poison. He offers support, but Charlotte questions his true motives when he lures her to break the law. Could she be falling into a dangerous trap, leading her to a fate worse than poison?

With her unwavering spirit and determination, Charlotte must forge alliances and navigate a web of treachery before Pritchard seeks his own ruthless revenge.

The newest book by award-winning author Jennifer M. Lane is perfect for fans of Jeannette Walls’ Hang the Moon and the fiery protagonist in The Hunger Games. Join Charlotte in this small town, coming-of-age dystopian historical saga as she finds resilience, courage, and triumph in her search for identity, independence, and her true home.

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Author Bio:

Jennifer Lane author photo

A Maryland native and Pennsylvanian at heart, Jennifer M. Lane holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Barton College and a master’s in liberal arts with a focus on museum studies from the University of Delaware, where she wrote her thesis on the material culture of roadside memorials.

Jennifer is a member of the Authors Guild and the Historical Novel Society. Her first book, Of Metal and Earth, won the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Award for First Novel and was a Finalist in the 2018 IAN Book of the Year Awards in the category of Literary / General Fiction. She is also the author of Stick Figures from Rockport, and the Collected Stories of Ramsbolt, including the books Blood and Sand, Penny's Loft, Hope for Us Yet, and A Good Day for Pie, The Worsted House, and The Warmth of Fires.

Editorial Review:

"Downriver" is an intense journey through the history and life of the Morris family, a story that spans generations and destinies full of pain and struggle. Readers are taken on an emotional journey, marked by intense experiences and confrontations with the past. Jennifer Lane builds a palpable and deep atmosphere, revealing subtle layers of the characters' psychology and the powerful impact of their environment on them.


A remarkable aspect of the book is the author's ability to create vivid and tangible imagery, highlighted by memorable quotes that evoke strong emotions. For example, when Charlotte observes the traces left by her family on the floor of the house, readers are invited to feel the weight of the past and loss:„Three generations of the Morris family have worn quite a path on this oor”. These descriptive details add depth and authenticity to Lane's created universe.


Another aspect worth mentioning is the complex relationship between the characters and the surrounding environment, especially their strong connection to the home and nature. Through this bond, the author explores themes such as loss of identity and the struggle for survival in the face of adversity.


„I bite back the urge to topple it to the oor and stomp it to smithereens just to keep that stupid bank from taking one more thing.” Highlighting the tension and desperation of the characters in the face of inevitable changes.


Bea is one of the main characters in the book. She is a close friend of the protagonist, Charlotte. Together with Charlotte and two other friends, Ruthie and Hazel, they form a group that gathers to discuss various topics and find ways to cope with the challenges of their lives in their town. Bea seems to be a loyal supporter of Charlotte, encouraging her to get involved in activities like the literary society and providing support in difficult times.


Emmett is portrayed as a support for Charlotte and an ally in their efforts to bring positive changes to their community. They work together to manage a printing press and use this tool to fight against the corrupt influence of powerful figures in the town. Emmett is an important character in the story, bringing an element of solidarity and collaboration to the struggle for social justice.


Through these characters, the author addresses sensitive and relevant topics such as poverty, illness, and corruption, offering a deep perspective on the human condition and the struggle for justice. Through her captivating and empathetic voice, Jennifer Lane encourages readers to reflect on their own realities and understand the complexity of the surrounding world.


The novel also abounds in moments of solidarity and hope, such as Charlotte's discussions with her friends about the literary society and plans to address injustice in the town. These scenes add a note of optimism and resilience in a dark and dangerous world.


Otto, an apparently simple character, becomes a symbol of hope and unexpected help in the midst of chaos. The dialogue between the two is filled with tension and emotion, offering the reader a welcome break in a story full of action.


Another important aspect is the protagonist's struggle to uncover the truth and seek justice in a corrupt town. Her encounter with Weylan, a mysterious and determined young man, brings a romantic element and complicates her efforts to achieve her goal.


On a dark night, the protagonist and Weylan ventured together into an old, abandoned building to obtain ink for their newspapers. Under the pale light of the moon, tension knotted her stomach as they tried to avoid the threatening guard dog. However, they managed to escape unharmed. After this perilous adventure, they left with ink and relieved hearts, knowing they had taken an important step to warn their community about the danger of poisoned fish in the river.


„Weylan snatches the tub before it rolls entirely out of reach, just as the dog nips at my calf, but his teeth catch on my stockings, ripping and tearing them. I bite back the urge to curse. A sharp, ear-splitting whistle rings out, and the dog turns and runs. Weylan reaches up and grabs something off a shelf, white and pointy. Deer antler. He throws it underhand beneath the shelves, and I relax at the sound of scrambling claws as the dog turns on a dime and chases it.”

This passage underscores Weylan's abilities in the face of danger and his protective nature, as well as the effective collaboration between him and the main character in tense situations. By using passages rich in detail and emotion, Jennifer Lane creates a captivating atmosphere and offers readers a memorable story about courage and perseverance in the face of injustice and corruption.


This is a tale of courage, betrayal, and the pursuit of justice set in a small town. In "Downriver" by Jennifer Lane, we follow the protagonist, Charlotte, as she navigates the complexities of her community and confronts the corrupt forces threatening it. Through Lane's vibrant prose and compelling narrative, we witness Charlotte's journey from a place of uncertainty and fear to one of clarity and determination. Lane paints a vivid picture of the town with her descriptive language, as seen when Charlotte observes: „Sunday morning washes the town in a brilliant sunrise, staining everything pink.


The strength of Lane's storytelling lies in her ability to weave multiple narrative threads, each adding depth and complexity to the overall story. We see this in Charlotte's interactions with her family and friends, especially in her complicated relationship with Weylan.


Throughout the novel, Lane skillfully blends dialogue and inner monologue to reveal the inner workings of Charlotte's mind. This is evident in moments when she debates whether to accept Pritchard's offer to give her the title to her childhood home. Charlotte's internal struggle is palpable as she weighs the potential consequences of her decision.


With a hopeful and determined ending, "Downriver" concludes on a strong note of resilience and trust in the future. Through the voices of the protagonist, Charlotte, and her partner, Emmett, a portrait of the fight against injustice and corruption is painted in a town plagued by adversities.


"Downriver" by Jennifer Lane is a captivating and profound reading experience, skillfully blending emotion and suspense to create a memorable story. Through well-rounded characters and a well-constructed plot, the author takes us on a journey full of twists and lessons. From resilience to the power of hope and solidarity, the novel explores universal themes with sensitivity and depth. With its captivating narrative style and a story full of lessons, "Downriver" is certainly a book that will stay in readers' minds long after the final page is turned.



"Downriver" by Jennifer Lane receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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