The River Between Us

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The River Between Us Book Poster Image
Civil War realism for young readers.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The anti-war message is incredibly powerful and memorable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

These teens are brave and strong in the face of a terrifying historical event.


Boy loses an arm in battle, a father is killed, a mother commits suicide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Officers drink alcohol and smoke cigars. Soldiers in the town are falling-down drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the depiction of Cairo, Illinois, and its army camp and hospital is not for the faint-hearted. Be prepared for some powerful discussions with your children about war. A boy loses an arm in battle, a man is killed, a woman commits suicide. Officers drink and smoke cigars, and soldiers get drunk.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCarelyn November 14, 2012

More than just a Young Adult novel.

I read the River Between Us two years ago for the very first time. It's a short YA novel, which meant it wouldn't take long to read, however I underes... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byCSM Screen Name... April 9, 2008

Great Read For All Ages!

I had to read this for a literature review and it was the best book I have read in a long time! I definately recommend it!
Teen, 15 years old Written byBrigidArmbrust April 8, 2018

What's the story?

After a brief but delightful framing device involving a 100-mile car trip in 1916, the story jumps back even further, to the beginning of the Civil War and a little one-horse town on the banks of the Mississippi, Grand Tower. The first half of the story introduces the Pruitt family and their strange new boarders. Tilly Pruitt tells the story of her 16-year-old twin Noah, itching to join the war, her mother, who doesn't know how to prevent it, and her younger sister Cass, whose psychic visions have made her sickly. Into their parochial lives come two mysterious refugees from New Orleans -- the glamorous and ethereal Delphine, and Calinda, who may or may not be her slave. As the war cranks up in the background, and the town is split by partisan feelings, the Pruitt's lives are turned upside down by their fascinating visitors. But when Noah runs off to join the war, Mama, nearly mad with fear and grief, sends Tilly and Delphine after him. Upon their arrival at Cairo, Illinois, where Noah's regiment is quartered, Peck opens up two windows for his readers. One looks out into the multiracial culture of New Orleans in the first half of the 19th century, the other into the war. The first is fascinating, the second, horrific.

Is it any good?

Rarely has war in general, and the Civil War in particular, been portrayed so clearly and realistically for young readers. Perhaps only in Gary Paulsen's Soldier's Heart, which spanned the war and many battles. Peck offers not a sweeping view, but rather a sliver -- the hospital and camp in Cairo just before the Battle of Belmont. It's an ugly sight, and not one that will leave any reader in doubt about the glory of war. When they arrive, Noah is sick with dysentery, but getting him well may be a mistake -- health is a ticket into hell.

All of this is done with Peck's trademark razor-edged prose. Few modern authors, for adults or children, wield a pen with the surgical precision Peck brings to every sentence. There's a cadence to his paragraphs that speaks of long experience and attention to detail, and that carries his passions in succinct and poignant rhythms.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what war is really like.

  • Have you played video games involving war?

  • How does this book's depiction of war compare?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history based drama

Themes & Topics

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