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Book Review: Rivet Boy by Barbara Henderson

My dear bookish friends,

Today I’m sharing with you a review of a book that is such a quick read, but it is eye-opening, real, wondrous, and gripping as well: Rivet Boy by Barbara Henderson. This was a 5-star read for me, so do read on to find out more about the book, and for my detailed review!

About the Book

Whatever you do, don’t look down…

When 12-year-old John Nicol gets a job at the Forth Bridge construction site, he knows it’s dangerous. Several men have already fallen from the bridge into the Forth below. But John has no choice – with his father gone, he must provide an income for his family – even if he is terrified of heights. John finds comfort in the new Carnegie library, his friend Cora and his squirrel companion, Rusty. But when he is sent to work in Cain Murdoch’s Rivet Gang, John must find the courage to climb, to face his fears, and to stand up to his evil boss. Based on real-life events and inspired by contemporary newspaper coverage Barbara found during her research, Rivet Boy is the story of one Victorian boy’s role in the building of the iconic Forth Bridge – Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder. 

About the Author

Inverness-based Barbara Henderson is the author of historical novels Fir for Luck, Punch, Black Water, The Siege of Caerlaverock and The Chessmen Thief as well as the eco-thriller Wilderness Wars. The Chessmen Thief won the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award for the best children’s historical fiction in 2022 and The Siege of Caerlaverock won the same accolade in 2021. Barbara shares her home with one teenage son, one long-suffering husband and a scruffy Schnauzer called Merry. Twitter/Instagram: @scattyscribbler

My Review

Rivet Boy is about 12-year old John Nicol, who’s had to leave school in order to become the breadwinner of the house. With his father dead, his mother’s widow’s payment run out, and his grandfather being old and sickly, the young boy has no other option but to get a job. It’s not any other job though – John is starting on the construction site of the infamous Forth Bridge in Scotland! Even though he is terrified of heights… John starts off in the different offices, but soon, he has to get up there, literally…

I had heard of children (or young teens) working in construction back in the day, but experiencing this life through the eyes of one of them was truly eye-opening. The author masterfully wove this tale of young John Nicol and his coming-of-age. Not only does he have to take on the role of the breadwinner of his family, he also does so in a rather extraordinary (and dangerous) position. 

John is a very likeable character. He is well-mannered and eloquent, he cares about his family a lot, and he wants to make his father proud. He knows of his duty as the older of two children, and he wants to fulfill it. I was scared for him when he had to climb up the bridge, and even more so when the gang leaders there started to pick on him. Other than that, his family life wasn’t the easiest, either. He lost his father, has to make sure they all get food on the table, and all live in a one-bedroom-flat – his mother and younger sister, his grandfather and himself.

However, John also makes some great friends along the way, which I loved for him. One of whom will change his life forever… I also love how the library – Carnegie Library – has a special place in this book, and we also read about other books from the 19th century. However, John also makes an animal friend which gave this book another special touch. One day, on his way to work, John rescues Rusty, a squirrel. I love how Rusty became a proper recurring character in the book!

Barbara Henderson created a very special tale here. It shows the hardships of its time, but it is illuminated with love, friendship, and wonder as well. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and am grateful to the lovely people at Cranachan Publishing for my ecopy of the book and my spot on this tour (none of which influenced my review in any way).

5 stars from me!


Will you pick up this novel? Do let me know what you think of it!


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