Title: The Riverman (Riverman #1)
Author: Aaron Starmer
Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Page Count: 320
Source: ARC from publisher
(I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest
review. No favors were exchanged, my opinions are my own.)
First Reaction: I'm definitely going to be thinking about this one for a good, long time. In a good way.
"To sell a book, you need a description on the back. So here's mine: My name is Fiona Loomis. I was born on August 11, 1977. I am recording this message on the morning of October 13, 1989. Today I am thirteen years old. Not a day older. Not a day younger."
Fiona Loomis is Alice, back from Wonderland. She is Lucy, returned from Narnia. She is Coraline, home from the Other World. She is the girl we read about in storybooks, but here's the difference: She is real.
Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary is her neighbor in a town where everyone knows each other. One afternoon, Fiona shows up at Alistair's doorstep with a strange proposition. She wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into a clearly troubled mind. For Fiona tells Alistair a secret. In her basement there's a gateway and it leads to the magical world of Aquavania, the place where stories are born. In Aquavania, there's a creature called the Riverman and he's stealing the souls of children. Fiona's soul could be next.
Alistair has a choice. He can believe her, or he can believe something else...something even more terrifying.
[Summary Source: Goodreads]
Fiona and Alistair were friends when they were little but they haven't really spoken to each other in years, which is why it's a little strange when Fiona approaches Alistair and asks him to write her biography and believe her story about her travels to a place called Aquavania. Fiona also asks Alistair to believe her stories about The Riverman, an evil-doer who is kidnapping children across Aquavania and appears to now be coming after Fiona. Alistair can't quite believe any of this and thinks Fiona is seeking help for other problems in her life, but he soon learns that the world isn't as black and white as he once thought.
What Keeps Me Up At Night:
I'd personally call this book Upper-Middle Grade, mostly because of the mature themes it touches upon. Here are some of those things, and some other things about this book that keep me up at night.
1. When Fiona goes to Alistair to ask him to write her biography and to tell him about the Riverman, he doesn't quite believe her. Instead he thinks she's telling a story to draw attention to the abuse someone in her life is inflicting upon her. Alistair takes action as a result of these things he thinks are happening to Fiona and some of that action is kind of violent, which I also think is kind of mature. But all of this mature stuff is good. It all make sense and I love how it pieces the story together. I also love how it eases the reader into this bizarre fantasy land of Fiona's (because Alistair is going through the same disbelief the reader is). This whole plot line also plants a seed of doubt because it is plausible that Fiona is making everything up and Alistair is right.
2. The Riverman himself is a very, very scary concept. He's basically this creativity stealing, body snatching character who could be anyone. And, let me just say, the big reveal of who it is (because you do find out in this book), is insane. I didn't see it coming at all and I don't see how I could have. It was a mystery of the truest sense that shocked and truly scared me. If you match that up with Alistair's made up story of someone abusing Fiona in real life, the message is similarly terrifying: Anyone could be doing anything - especially something nefarious, abusive, or morally reprehensible. (Obviously you shouldn't be suspicious of everyone always, but it's possible the shadiest character is innocent, while the bad guy is someone you'd never ever point the finger at.)
3. There are moments throughout the book when Alistair seems to believe Fiona story (because it seems plausible to him due to his own personal experiences he's trying to suppress), but he always sort of leans back on a reality he's constructed - one that makes logical sense instead of the one the requires him to believe in something he can't believe is true. As in, he thinks Fiona's stories are a cry for help because she's being abused but really, her fantastical stories about The Riverman are what's true and she's seeking help with that but Alistair can't bring himself to help because he can't believe it. It's very backwards and totally bizarre but the whole thing is incredible to watch. Especially since, as I've mentioned before, you're not sure if Alistair, our narrator, who's right or if it's Fiona, this other girl whose head we cannot enter, who's telling the truth.
4. This book takes place in the 80s, which is an interesting time because it requires Fiona and Alistair to use microfiche and landlines and get charged for long distance phone calls. All of this (and more) really gives the story a very different feel and forces the reader to adjust and react differently than they might with a story written in present day. It also requires more thinking and is definitely part of what keeps me up at night. In a good way. I love that this book takes place in the past and I wouldn't want it any other way.
5. Aquavania is a weird place, but it's a weird place I'd want to visit (y'know, as long as the Riverman's kicked out, of course). It's a place where anything in your imagination can exist. It's a place when you age internally but not externally, where time in the outside world does not pass. For me, it's the manifestation of imagination. The time I spend inside my head does age me internally. My brain does create all of these things that don't make sense or aren't actually real things. The more I dream, the more I grow and expand and change on the inside. Which is pretty cool and kind of deep for both me and this blog.
There are about a dozen other things that keep me up late at night I could list here (but I won't because this is long enough). I've honestly never read a book like The Riverman before and I don't think I will again. Except, maybe, the other two books in this trilogy. Which I'm very excited for.
The long and short of it?
Plot: Haunting, beautiful, and oh-so-different from anything I've ever read.
World Building: Aquavania is a weird place but I really want to go to there - like the actual place, not my imagination, please and thanks. I also enjoyed the world building outside of Fiona's fantasy-land. I wasn't alive in the 80s but the description was more than enough to place me there.
Character Development: This book is Fiona's biography but it's really about Alistair's growth. I love both of them but there's just something about Alistair that keep me turning the pages.
Prose: Quirky and different, just like this book.
Would I Recommend This Book?: If you're looking for a book that's going to make you think about many things, look no further. Even if you don't love fantasy all that much, this book is more about the messages and the words, so please do pick it up.
Have you read The Riverman? Were you going to? Are you going to now? Let me know what your thoughts on this haunting Middle Grade novel are in the comments below!