A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Riverman is the first book in a thought-provoking coming-of-age/fantasy trilogy and a great choice for reading along with kids. Parents who were children of the '80s (or wish they were) will appreciate the setting and period details. The secrets the main character, 11-year-old Alistair, keeps from his parents -- and the difficult places this leads him -- offer many opportunities for discussion. Alistair and his friend Fiona obsess about lost children and how they could have gone missing (the real-world and fantasy-world hypotheses are both disturbing: a deranged relative or a shadowy soul-stealer). Someone close to Alistair does go missing, and a character is shot. Plus, Alistair almost gets killed playing a game called "Jack in the Box," which involves hiding in a box on the road, praying a car will swerve in time. Halloween shenanigans lead to a fistfight, and playing with fireworks ends with a kid's fingers being blown off. A few characters are heavy smokers; one teen also drinks and keeps booze and cigarettes on hand in his truck. Infrequent crude language doesn't go beyond "badass" and "screw you." Sexual content sticks to a crush; there are some light kisses and a little bawdy boy talk.
What's the story?
Eleven-year-old Alistair had almost forgotten about his childhood friend Fiona until she shows up one day with a cassette tape (it's the '80s) and asks him to pen her biography. She thinks he has a creative mind and will understand her unbelievable tale of a place called Aquavania, a world she created out of her imagination. It exists next to other worlds created by other kids -- a world she thought was Utopia until someone tells her about the Riverman, a shadowy figure who steals children's souls, destroying the worlds they've created and taking them from the "Solid World" as well. Fiona's friend Chua went missing, and now she fears she's next. Alistair doesn't know what to think of this but isn't willing to believe in Aquavania. Instead, he becomes suspicious of Fiona's uncle, his vivid imagination finding numerous ways to implicate the man. Meanwhile, he develops feelings for Fiona and decides to protect her at any cost.
Is it any good?
Many readers will find THE RIVERMAN leaves too many mysteries for them to solve by the end, but all the surprise moments are worth it. Author Aaron Starmer excels at pacing and creating atmosphere, with a slow and steady buildup of tension. Readers slip right into the story's mood and its gray areas, real and imagined, as the main character remembers dark tales, including one of a wife who poisons her husband. The story's conclusion may be hard to believe, but it shows how dark ideas and too many secrets add up to dangerous situations.
Alistair as a main character is a big standout, too. He's complex, flawed, and very real. He's the kind of kid you root for and yell at when he gets things horribly wrong. But, just as how Alistair can't resist a ride in Kyle's car, readers won't be able to resist following him on his next misadventure.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about secrets. Are you like Alistair, a kid who keeps secrets? Do you ever regret keeping them for friends? When is it important not to keep a secret? What can be dangerous about it?
The Riverman leaves much to readers to figure out themselves, and plenty is still left unresolved. Do you like to read books with ambiguous endings? Do you think the next two books in the trilogy will explain all or keep you guessing?
What would your imaginary Aquavania world look like? Which friends' worlds would you most like to visit?
- Author: Aaron Starmer
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: March 18, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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