Review: Rivet Boy

The story of one boy’s role in the construction of the iconic Forth Bridge, Rivet Boy really is (sorry, couldn’t resist) a riveting read. 

Like the technology that adds vibrant colour to tattered black and white photos, the story brings Victorian Scotland to life and reminds us that this still-admired feat of engineering was a feat of human endeavour and resilience as well.

12-year-old John Nicol has become the family’s breadwinner – though he’d rather be at school. His new job as a brigger on the Forth Bridge Construction site means that he will be able to put food on the family’s table, but it also means difficult work and daily danger – plus he’s terrified of heights.   

John finds consolation in visits to the new Carnegie library, in his autograph-collecting hobby and growing friendships with Rusty the squirrel and Cora, a budding engineer, but events take a darker turn when he is assigned to Cain Murdoch’s murderous rivet gang.

John is a quietly determined character through whose eyes we get a fresh and fascinating perspective of historical events. The story is full of intriguing and well-researched details, from the risks of construction to the jaw-dropping succession of historical figures who visited the bridge, to the importance of the final golden rivet. 

These factual gems are woven into an action-packed story so integrally that you hardly realise you are learning. You might need to buckle your harness for the exciting final chapters, which feature guns, riots and a nail-biting bridge-top tussle, but it will definitely be worth it for the view from the top.  

Rivet Boy, by Barbara Henderson (Cranachan)

  • More…We’re delighted that Barbara joined Roaring Reads for a Research Files Q&A where she shares an insight into how she created this story.
  • This review was part of the blog tour for Rivet Boy’s launch in February 2023. To read other reviews and content from the tour, search #rivetboy on social media.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like…

The Reluctant Rebel, by Barbara Henderson

Following the death of his father, 13-year-old Archie MacDonald has lost faith in the Jacobite Cause. Having witnessed their clan’s terrible defeat at the Battle of Culloden, Archie and his feisty cousin Meg flee back to Lochaber to lie low, or so they think. This is another crackling read from the Queen of Scottish historical kidlit, which highlights lesser-known events and gives a child’s perspective on the events of 1746. Archie’s reluctance to unquestioningly embrace his clansmans’ cause makes him an engaging hero.

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