The River Between Us Book Poster Image

The River Between Us



Civil War realism for young readers.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The anti-war message is incredibly powerful and memorable.

Positive role models

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.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Richard Peck
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Brothers and sisters, History
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dial Books
Publication date:September 14, 2003
Number of pages:164
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

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Educator and Parent 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 underestimated it's power of engagement and the impact the tale would have on me. This book is not a YA book alone, it is a fantastic book for adults as well. It covers a side of American history rarely discussed. The characters are powerful in unique and believable ways. Human heroes exist through out the tale, and the candid presentation of American view points during the civil war is fantastic. It is now a regular book that I re read to keep it's lessons fresh in my mind.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written bybbrriitttaaannnyy April 15, 2010
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byTD5 January 12, 2009

I really didn't like this book

This was a really boring book. It just bored me. Idk y but ppl think it's good. This book is also sad because some of the ppl die at the end and all that stuff. I just dont like it


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