Meet Me at the River

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Meet Me at the River Book Poster Image
Moving romantic read deals with grief, suicidal impulses.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Meet Me at the River refers to authors including Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Parents could use this book to start a discussion about grief, depression, and suicide.

Positive Messages

Well-developed message of learning to make your own decisions and to move on with your life one day at a time.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tressa doesn't always make the best choices. In her grief, she even tries to kill herself. Eventually, though, she learns to want to live -- and to enjoy the moments of happiness and the people who love her. 

Violence

A teen boy is killed in an accident. Tressa tries to kill herself and ends up in a mental hospital temporarily. Another girl cuts herself. A dog dies. Tressa befriends a girl whose father committed suicide. 

Sex

A teen boy walks in on his father having sex with a woman. Tressa doesn't have sex with her boyfriend Luke -- who's also her stepbrother -- but they do kiss and lie naked together, and Luke had sex with his previous girlfriend. Tressa's mother's had many boyfriends, including Tressa's father, with whom she broke up before Tressa was born. 

Language

Occasional "Goddamn," "crap," "a--hole," and the like.

Consumerism

A few mentions of commercial products, including Nutri-Grain Bar, Sorel, iPod, Sun Chips, Diet Coke, and Lady Gaga.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Tressa gets drunk at a party and throws up. She also gets drunk and takes pills before her suicide attempt. Later, adults offer her drinks, and she gets drunk on mulled wine made by a former teacher at her school. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Meet Me at the River is about a teen girl struggling with grief after an accident kills the boy she loves, who's also her stepbrother. Tressa even tries to kill herself and ends up temporarily in a mental hospital. The book mentions an adult character's suicide and a teen girl who cuts herself. There's some sexual material, including a scene in which a boy walks in on his father having sex. Tressa and Luke don't have sex, but they do kiss and lie naked together, and Luke had sex with his previous girlfriend. Parents could use this book to open discussions about grief, depression, and suicide.

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What's the story?

After her boyfriend dies in an accident, Tressa isn't sure she wants to live and even attempts suicide. Now, instead of going to college with Luke, she's repeating her senior year, while her flaky mother and cold stepfather await a new baby. Tressa's happiest moments come when Luke's ghost visits her at night. They can talk about anything that happened before his death, but nothing that's happened since. As Tressa starts to make friends, she finds reasons to live in the present.

Is it any good?

Tressa's whole family situation in this compelling tale takes some sorting out. Her mother and Luke's father had a set of twins before splitting up, then got back together years after Tressa and Luke were born on the same day to different mothers. The reunited parents are understandably unhappy about the step-siblings' romantic relationship. Unrealistic and complicated as this might seem, it does set up Tressa and Luke as fated -- and doomed -- lovers. 

Although it seems as if it could easily feel clichéd, the ghost story is actually sweet and sad. It's Tressa's story, though Luke and Tressa take turns narrating. Readers will empathize with her daily struggle with grief after Luke's death and her sharp insight about life's randomness: "All my life...I felt like I could never be sure of anything. When the truth is, that's how everybody lives. Nobody can be certain, ever, not for a single second." Maybe the story goes on a bit long, but Meet Me at the River offers a sophisticated and satisfying look at loss -- and what it takes to move on afterward.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories featuring ghosts. How does the ghost in this story compare to the ones in other stories you've read?

  • Should authors writing for teens be concerned about romanticizing dangerous behaviors like cutting and suicide attempts -- or just write about grief as accurately as possible?  

  • In Meet Me at the River, a young teacher's response to a girl who's cutting herself gets him fired. What would you do in his place? 

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