Monday, January 6, 2014


The Riverman
By Aaron Starmer
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Scheduled for release March 18, 2014

Review by Anthony Kendrick

Children's literature is filled with stories of children who find portals to strange new worlds where they can become more than what they are. But who are they really when they are in the real world? And what effect do their fantastical journey's have on those close to them?

Fiona Loomis is about to go missing, and she knows it. But she wants somebody to know why. She can’t tell her parents or the police because they wouldn’t believe her, and besides they would probably question her sanity and send her to an institution. No, it has to be someone like her; someone she has a history with, who is just as creative as her, and someone she can trust with a secret. That someone is Alistair Cleary.

Alistair has been selected by Fiona to write her biography; the biography of a self-proclaimed weirdo. She believes that in her basement there is a portal to another world where anything she wishes becomes reality, but there is another creature inhabiting this world that is stealing the souls of her friends; a creature they call “the Riverman.” Is she telling the truth, or is this a cry for help veiled in a fairy tale. Alistair will take it upon himself to find out and his life will never be the same.

“The Riverman” had me hooked from the very first paragraph:

“Every town has a lost child. Search the archives, ask the clergy. You’ll find stories of runaways slipping out of windows in the dark, never to be seen again. You’ll be told of custody battles gone ugly and parents taking extreme measures. Occasionally you’ll read about kids snatched from parking lots or on their walks home from school. Here today, gone tomorrow. The pain is passed out and shared until the only ones who remember are the only ones who ever gave a damn.”

Yes, this was going to be a story of lost children. It was to be a mystery. But it turned into so much more than that. “The Riverman” is equal parts fantasy and juvenile psychological thriller, with just a hint of unrequited love thrown in. Starmer does a great job keeping the reader off balance while we try to decide what type of story this really is; what is really going on with Fiona.

There were a few things I really love about this book. First Aaron Starmer seems to have a need to mess with our conceptions of time a little bit. While it is not abnormal for a decade in a fantasy world to be as seconds in the real world, it is abnormal to have a character keep track and adjust their persona accordingly. Second, I really like the complexity of the protagonist. Alistair is an average 12 year old who is neither popular nor unpopular; he is a good student and a seemingly good son, but he also keeps secrets, plays dangerous games, and has a dangerously overwhelming desire to protect Fiona no matter the lengths he must go to. However it is to be noted that, for me, Alistair was occasionally unbelievable as a 7th grader. Otherwise he was a compelling character.

As with any good book, “The Riverman” leaves you wanting more. Though I was definitely disappointed to not get the answers I wanted at the end of this book, the ending makes sense. You never get an answer to an unsolved missing person case and all that remains is memories to haunt you or comfort you, and this book is just like that. "The Riverman" is odd and intriguing, suspenseful and absorbing. Middle school readers, as well as juvenile and YA fiction readers of any age, will not be able to put this down.

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