A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
There are descriptions of archeological and geographical terms throughout the book. Arabic words like "shokran" ("thank you") and "fajr" (first Muslim prayer of the day) are used. European colonialism and rights to cultural and historical artifacts are also explored. The author's note goes into detail about Egyptian history. The settings of the book provide readers unfamiliar with Argentinian and Egyptian history and culture with some insight into what life and language might have been like in the 1800s.
Pursue your goals. Believe in yourself and trust your own expertise. Don't let others tell you that you aren't capable or worthy of doing something you care about. Help others when you can. Forgive yourself for mistakes you've made. Don't punish yourself for things you couldn't have done differently. Ask for help when you need it.
Positive Role Models
Inez is smart and determined, passionate about archeology, and wants to learn all she can. She perseveres even when men repeatedly tell her she can't work, and manages to find the freedom she needs to pursue her goals. She's loyal and courageous in the face of danger. Whit, Inez's uncle's assistant, initially hides that Inez has utterly charmed him by being arrogant and dismissive, but he proves to be a compassionate and thoughtful friend. Tio Ricardo has an unpredictable temper, can yell and throw things when he is angry, and makes some terrible decisions, but he does care deeply for his niece, Inez and about his work as an archeologist and preserving Ancient Egyptian artifacts for Egyptians themselves. Other supporting and minor characters include a non-stereotypical woman friend of Inez's who teaches her to shoot a gun, and several villains of the illegal artifact trade, one of whom repeatedly betrays main characters in deeply hurtful ways.
Inez and her family are Bolivian and Argentinian, living in Buenos Aires. Most of the supporting characters are Latino or Egyptian. Most of the book takes place in Egypt, where the author weaves Arabic words, phrases, and cultural practices into the narrative. The author writes it in a way that is culturally relevant and respectful. Author Isabel Ibañez is the daughter of Bolivian immigrants and dreamed as a little girl of becoming an Egyptologist. Whitford, the other main character, is a White British man who frequently expresses his disapproval of British and French colonialism and control over other countries.
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Violence & Scariness
A major plot thread is about the illegal artifact trade, which puts main characters in major peril. Characters are kidnapped, beaten, trapped in a tomb, cut with knives, and held hostage. Guns are used to threaten and shoot a crocodile and people, in self-defense and to murder -- a character is shot in the arm, and a few characters are shot in the head. Two scenes are very quick and not graphically described, the other is briefly described in some detail: a main character's beloved relative is murdered, blood and bone splatters across the main character's face, and the relative collapses in a pool of blood, their face unrecognizable. A character twice destroys items around him when he becomes enraged.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Main characters kiss a few times, sometimes passionately, and a character touches another's breast through clothing and it's implied that they desire to have sex, but they do not. A character goes to a brothel, but tells the woman to stop undressing because he's only there to gather information. A mention of an affair.
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Occasional strong language used in surprise, frustration, or as insults, includes "hell," "damn," and "bastards," a few uses each of "f--k" and "s--t," and once, "bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Whit drinks alcohol from a flask regularly in the beginning of the novel, implying he may be an alcoholic. He offers Inez a glass of brandy, she takes a sip and says she doesn't like it. Inez and her younger cousin, Elvira, drink champagne on New Year's Eve and become tipsy. Whit does not drink alcohol for most of the novel, but drinks enough whiskey to be drunk at the end.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez is a historical fantasy-adventure set in Cairo in the late 1800s. Nineteen-year-old Inez Olivero sets off from Buenos Aries to Egypt to investigate her parents rumored deaths, but she must first evade her uncle and his assistant, who's blocking her every attempt... and is also very attractive. There is some graphic violence towards the end of the book, with two murders by gunshots to the head, one involves blood spatter and dealing with the dead body. The main characters face dangerous situations like escaping a crocodile, kidnapping, and assassins. Occasional strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "hell," "damn," "bastards," and "bitch." An adult character drinks to excess a few times, and young adult characters consume alcohol until tipsy once. There is a romantic relationship between the main characters. They kiss, sometimes passionately, one touches the other's breast, one has an erection, but they do not have sex.
Is It Any Good?
Isabel Ibañez's exciting, well-crafted novel makes for a fun and fast-paced read with the satisfaction of beautifully-researched histories and culturally accurate portrayals. What the River Knows is packed full of mystery, magic, and romance, which will have young adult readers glued to its pages. The pacing of the novel is interrupted only by its cliffhanger ending, which leaves more unanswered questions than problems solved. While the ending will have readers clamoring for the next book, the lack of any resolution could be frustrating. Also, for more sensitive readers, the murders may feel unnecessarily graphic, but for older teens who are ok with a little violence, there's much to love. Inez is a bright, courageous heroine, the Egyptian setting sparkles, the slow-burn romance is enchanting, and there's even thoughtful reflections of colonialism's impacts on those who experience it. This genre-blending novel will hit the spot for many teen readers.
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