Review: THE RIVERMAN

bookcover of THE RIVERMAN   by Aaron Starmer

Adult Worthy~

3.92 STARS from 107 GoodReaders

**Starred Review** Kirkus
**Starred Review** GoodBooksforKids

THE RIVERMAN was amazing. I received it as a review copy and I have to say that it's one of the best books I read this year. And if I get a chance again in my schedule, I'd love to read it again.  It was that good!

BACKSTORY
It all sounds rather sweet at first. There's a small town where children bike in the summer and throw rocks and do the things that are reminiscent of gentler times. But it all goes scary and scarier when a girl named Fiona Loomis asks 12 year old Alistair Cleary to write her biography.

It's such a curious request that Alistair agrees. And that is how he discovers that there's a land called Aquavania and that Fiona and other children have been escaping there on-and-off for months. It's a wonderful place on the surface of it. A place to get away, where every imagining can come true. ONLY there's a problem. The Riverman.  As Fiona spins the tale she tells of how the Riverman is stalking her -- threatening to suck her soul out with a straw.


The wonderful, wonderful part of this story is that like Alistair it's difficult to tell how 'disturbed' Fiona is. And thus we follow Alistair as he waits and watches and tries to find Fiona's real world threat.  He's down to studying the relatives that Fiona lives with, when his own life becomes jeopardized.

So I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THE RIVERMAN It's a layered story that is very well written. The author captures the feel of growing up in a small town, and he draws the characters --good, bad, first- and second-string-- perfectly.  Alistair and Fiona's relationship is realistic and charming. And perhaps most importantly, it's not clear what's real and what's fantasy --who or what the danger is.

Creepy enough for adults and young adults. It might be too intense for some middle-graders.

DEFINITELY RECOMMEND.

Pam~


THE RIVERMAN 
by Aaron Starmer

Reading Information:
Page Count: 320
no Accelerated Reading information currently available
 Lexile: 730L
--sample pages and reviews available



BEFORE

Every town has a lost child. Search the archives, ask the clergy. You’ll find stories of runaways slipping out of windows in the dark, never to be seen again. You’ll be told of custody battles gone ugly and parents taking extreme measures. Occasionally you’ll read about kids snatched from parking lots or on their walks home from school. Here today, gone tomorrow. The pain is passed out and shared until the only ones who remember are the only ones who ever really gave a damn.

Our town lost Luke Drake. By all accounts he was a normal twelve-year-old kid who rode his bike and got into just enough trouble. On a balmy autumn afternoon in 1979, he and his brother, Milo, were patrolling the banks of the Oriskanny with their BB rifles when a grouse fumbled out from some bushes. Milo shot the bird in the neck, and it tried to fly but crashed into a riot of brambles near the water.

“I shot, you fetch,” Milo told Luke, and those words will probably always kindle insomnia for Milo. Because in the act of fetching, Luke slipped on a rock covered with wet leaves and fell into the river.

It had been a rainy autumn, and the river was swollen and unpredictable. Even in drier times, it was a rough patch of water that only fools dared navigate. Branch in hand, Milo chased the current along the banks as far as he could, but soon his brother’s head bobbed out of view, and no amount of shouting “Swim!” or “Fight!” could bring him back.

Experts combed the river for at least fifteen miles downstream. No luck. Luke Drake was declared missing on November 20, and after a few weeks of extensive but fruitless searches, almost everyone assumed he was dead, his body trapped and hidden beneath a log or taken by coyotes. Perhaps his family still holds out hope that he will show up at their doorstep one day, a healthy man with broad shoulders and an astounding tale of amnesia.

I saw Luke’s body on November 22, 1979. Thanksgiving morning. I was almost three years old, and we were visiting my uncle’s cabin near a calm but deep bend in the Oriskanny, about seventeen miles downstream from where Luke fell. I don’t remember why or how, but I snuck out of the house alone before dawn and ended up sitting on a rock near the water. All I remember is looking down and seeing a boy at the bottom of the river. He was on his back, most of his body covered in red and brown leaves. His eyes were open, looking up at me. One of his arms stuck out from the murk. As the current moved, it guided his hand back and forth, back and forth. It was like he was waving at me. It almost seemed as though he was happy to see me.

My next memory is of rain and my dad picking me up and putting me over his shoulder and carrying me back through the woods as I whispered to him, “The boy is saying hello, the boy is saying hello.”

It takes a while to process memories like that, to know if they’re even true. I never told anyone about what I saw because for so long it meant something different. For so long it was just a boy saying hello, like an acquaintance smiling at you in the grocery store. You don’t tell people about that.

I was eleven when I finally put the pieces in their right places. I read about Luke’s disappearance at the library while researching our town’s bicentennial for a school paper. With a sheet of film loaded into one of the microfiche readers, I was scanning through old newspapers, all splotchy and purple on the display screen. I stopped dead on the yearbook picture of Luke that had been featured on Missing posters. It all came rushing back, like a long-forgotten yet instantly recognizable scent.

My uncle had sold the cabin by then, but it was within biking distance of my house, and I went out there the following Saturday and flipped over stones and poked sticks in the water. I found nothing. I considered telling someone, but my guilt prevented it. Besides, nine years had passed. A lot of river had tumbled through those years.

The memory of Luke may very well be my first memory. Still, it’s not like those soft and malleable recollections we all have from our early years. It’s solid. I believe in it, as much as I believe in my memory of a few minutes ago. Luke was our town’s lost child. I found him, if only for a brief moment.

yes... it's as good as this.

Review: WEST OF THE MOON

3.83 STARS from 23 GoodReaders

**Starred Review** Kirkus
**Starred Review** ALA BookList
**Starred Review** SchoolLibraryJournal

WEST OF THE MOON is a wonderful book set in Norway in the 1800s.

The story was inspired by a curious entry in the author's great-great grandmother's diary. Linka Preus, it seems, was on-board a ship coming to America when she saw a farm girl sitting all alone. There's really not more that is said than that, but that brief description was all it took to stir up Margi Preus' imagination. 

Backstory
As the book begins Astri (13 yo) is living with her little sister, Greta, in her aunt's and uncle's home.  Their mother died in childbirth some years before, and her father is now absent because he has ventured off to America hoping to find a better life, with the expectation that they will later join him.

But what a terrible mistake this plan is.  The aunt and uncle care little for the children and it isn't long before Astri is being sold-off to a hermit. In exchange for some coins and a haunch of goat, she is sent to be his housekeeper, goatherd and heaven knows what else.  **highlight text to read spoiler. (There is one scene where he tries to pull her into bed with him, but she fights him off. His response is that in the spring he will see the two of them properly married, at which point he can do as he will.) **

Mr. Svaalberd, who Astri calls "Goatbeard" is a harsh master and it isn't long before Astri dreams of escaping.  But how to work it all out. She refuses to leave without her little sister. And they can't just escape without money and a place to go.


There are a number of elements I really liked about WEST OF THE MOON.  First, I love the language that Margi Preus chose, and how she wove the folktales into the story. [sample pages available] Astri uses them to calm her sister Greta, and as a means to try to understand her life. It worked so very well to keep the momentum going.

And then there were the little mysteries that arose.  Who was the mysterious girl in the back shed and how did she get there? And where was Mr. Svaalberd as they were trying to escape?  And exactly what kind of book is it that their father left them?

And of course, none of this would have worked however without good characters.  I thought that Greta acted as a perfect foil to Astri's hard ways.  She was sweet and generous which contrasted with how hard and serious Astri was.  Then again, Astri couldn't afford to be as innocent as her sister or they would have both perished.

WEST OF THE MOON is a fascinating book that is going to appeal to Adults as well as Adults as well as Young Adults and even some Middle-graders.  

RECOMMEND, with a few caveats. (see below**)

Pam~


**What you should know is that while Preus uses fairytales that this book contains a good bit that is realistic.  There is hardship, hunger, some violence, and an attempted rape. I don't mean to indicate that the book is a gore fest, only that it might not be for more sensitive readers.


WEST OF THE MOON
by Margi Preus

Reading Information:
Page Count: 224
no reading information currently available
--sample pages and reviews available