Steve Alcorn's short but fully realized novel is conceived as two parallel stories, one in 1928 and the other in 1540 (just two years before Juan Cabrillo landed in California in 1542, opening California to the modern world). The stories are set in the same physical location, a canyon downstream from where the St. Francis Dam collapsed in 1928. The protagonist of each story is a young girl of about 12 years old. Each girl has interests and intentions which were probably unusual for her culture.
Aside from the thriller-type page-turning dramatic aspect of both stories, I found the historical aspects interesting. For example, it certainly was fun to read about a time when gasoline cost just ten cents per gallon, and people needed to use blocks of ice to keep their food from spoiling. Also, it was a politically innocent time when you could just go out and dig up Native American skeletons and no one would think of you as doing anything but Archeology.
The story line from 1540 was fascinating since it presented a lot of information about the Chumash Indians, which are usually presented so matter of factly. Even though the book is short, by the end you have a very good picture of the details of Chumash daily life, which Alcorn somehow makes interesting, and a fairly rich imagining of Chumash spiritual life as well.
Aside from the anthropology, the best part of the book was the dam disaster and its aftermath. The preamble to the disaster, and the dam collapse itself, are related with an extremely light touch. You might expect that a novel about a civil engineering disaster to be filled with a dull engineering back-story. But then you might also expect to guess the endings of the stories of the two girls. You would be wrong in both cases.
I can honestly say that when Everything In Its Path arrived on my doorstep from Amazon, I started reading it right away, even though I was already reading a novel I had been looking forward to reading for eight years: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I actually found Alcorn's novel about the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 absorbing and involving right from the star and I finished reading it before I read another page of Harry Potter's final adventure.
I think Everything In Its Path would be a good book to read to your older kids, although much younger children might be troubled by the flood and its devastation.