Review: It Happened At the Fair by Deeanne Gist

Gambling everything—including the family farm—Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the fair’s Machinery Hall makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading.

The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?

As always, Deeanne plops us right into the middle of the action and gives us a view of something wonderful that none of us were able to experience.

Poor Cullen, sufferer of allergies that would drive most of us to our knees – or at least inside to the air conditioning – toughs it out on his family’s cotton farm. His father, believer that Cullen is made for greatness, sacrifices everything to send Cullen and his invention to the Fair.

With her trademark style, Deeanne gives us a glimpse into the world of small cotton farmers in the 1890s, the world of deaf children and those who love them, the world of the Fair, the world of inventors and firefighters, the world spiraling into the greatest depression until the Great Depression, and so many others.

She draws on the rich environment to give us a setting and tugs at our heartstrings as Cullen wonders about the girl he left behind and the one who’s with him now. What choice will he make? For what reason? And at what cost?

Can he be a success when it seems everything is stacked against him, including partial [and increasing] deafness in a time when those with disabilities were often locked away in asylums?

All of this and more [including a passing mention of the Biltmore Estate from Maid to Match] as she weaves a tale of love and secrets and marvels beyond the wildest dreams.

Overall Rating: 8.75 out of 10 stars

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ecopy in exchange for my honest review.