Review: The Riverman

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The RivermanThe Riverman by Aaron Starmer
Series: The Riverman #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on March 18, 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-stars

"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.

The blurb of The Riverman pulled me in but also repelled me. How can I not be intrigued by a book that name-drops such awesome titles. But, by the same token, the audacity! It’s not necessarily a good idea to draw comparisons to Carroll, Lewis, and Gaiman, because that sets a seriously high bar. In this case, though, the blurb was spot on. The fantastical other-worldness of Lewis, the weirdness of Carroll, and the creep-factor of Gaiman combine in The Riverman.

To be clear, though I see the parallels, The Riverman never felt derivative. Starmer was inspired by a lot of things (he’s even blogged about them) but his creations shines with originality and cleverness. The Riverman is the sort of middle grade fiction that is just as enjoyable for adults, the kind that has an eerie magic no matter what your age might be. The writing is intelligent, and the book isn’t written down. It’s dark and high concept.

To be honest, I still don’t have everything in The Riverman figured out. The first and last chapters basically have me entirely stymied. Obviously, this is a book I’ll need to revisit through the years and I have every expectation of finding new things each time. Though it’s a quick read, it’s also densely packed with meaning and questions. This is a book for the ambitious child and for teens and adults who still love to be charmed by the power of the imagination.

Personally, I almost always like my middle grade fiction to be about highly intelligent kids. The Riverman falls into this category. I know some people feel like that’s a bit unrealistic, but, as an adult, those are the middle grade novels I find compelling. Nothing’s obvious. When the middle graders aren’t of above average intelligence, the plot twists are usually so clear from page one. In The Riverman, I was constantly staring at the book in disbelieving wonder, because Starmer kept blowing my mind, both with twists and darkness.

Be prepared for the coup of a century! No, wait. Sorry. Be prepared for something seriously dark. The Riverman falls just short of depressing. I mean, the whole thing is about the Riverman, who is going around the world and killing children. That’s pretty macabre stuff. Of course, I’m a firm believer in kids being able to handle some of that, as the success of Gaiman’s children’s books proves. Those are a good readalike for the dark and creepy aspects.

Alistair, the main character, is sort of blind-sided by Fiona Loomis. He didn’t know her well, and she’s suddenly forcing her way into his life, asking him to write her biography. She also insists that she’s several months older than her birthday would suggest. She begins to unfold her tale of another world, a world of pure imagination called Aquavania. My favorite part was the question of whether she was speaking truthfully or whether everything was a manifestation of some sort of abuse. Really deep psychological stuff.

There were a few things that left me scratching my head. I already mentioned the ending, which is rather open and I just really want to know what was happening exactly. Then there’s Fiona’s age. She’s constantly asserting what her true age, and she’s very positive that she’s precisely fourteen or whatever. How is she tracking time so accurately in her alternate world. Does time pass the same way it does here? Is she very good at keeping a calendar? Does she account for leap years? It just seemed strange to me, because I feel like I would automatically lose track of how long I’d been there, but I’ve always been horrid with dates.

Do you have a vast imagination and love to think about the worlds it could create? Do you like middle grade novels that will creep you out and make you think? If yes, then you need The Riverman in your life, I promise.

Favorite Quote:

She was unknowable in a way that all girls are unknowable, but also in her own way.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Coraline I could've died

9 responses to “Review: The Riverman”

  1. Morgan says:

    I’ve been intrigued by this book for a long time, I’m so glad you feel like it lived up to its blurb! I do like creepy children’s books… when I’m in the right mood that is. I haven’t read Coraline but the movie really freaked me out! Will have to pick this one up someday.

    • Christina Franke says:

      You really should! I was very impressed with the quality of the writing and the fancifulness of the story and the dark creepiness. 🙂

  2. Brandy says:

    I loved the characters in this and the quality of the imagery. And yes, to the darkness and the smartness of the characters. I would have loved it if it had not been a little too long in places. And I had real problems with the end. I felt like it was a total non-ending and a cop-out. It just made me mad that I had invested all this time caring about the characters and got THAT. So it may me less than fully happy when I was finished. But I would certainly recommend it to others.
    Brandy recently posted…TTT: Popular Authors I Haven’t ReadMy Profile

  3. Nori says:

    I seriously need to read this now! This sounds wonderful. I love the darker, more intelligent middle grade books too, no matter how realistic they are. I’m kind of actually getting tired of people making the argument that children and teens are sounding too adult in books. I find it kind of insulting that so many people think it’s unrealistic for so many young people to be so intelligent. Not all young people are the same. And I know plenty of intelligent young people who come into my library. I guess authors are readers, and they tend to have been readers growing up. So, it makes sense for them to write young people like them (when they were young and intelligent).
    Nori recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday (85)My Profile

  4. Roro says:

    And other round of iiiiiiiii. Lol . I’m only 1/4 trough and ooh so loving it . Some chapters are a little bit too long but nothing else is ruining my reading experience . I love how intelligent alistair is . I was not that smart when I was his age :/ . Great review Christina
    Roro recently posted…Review: Out Of The Pocket by Bill KONIGSBERGMy Profile

  5. Bonnie says:

    So I totally avoided this one because the cover made me think this was just another installment in Colin Meloy’s Wildwood series. I freaking love the sound of this one though. On the list it goes. Love a good creepy middle grade book.
    Bonnie recently posted…Book Review – Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2) by Tahereh MafiMy Profile

  6. This one sounds really dark but in a very intriguing way. My favorite series when I was younger was The Mysterious Benedict Society because of how much I loved the smart kids in there, so this one seems like it would also be a great read in that category of intelligent kids that managed to throw you in for a loop in terms of the different plot twists.
    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted…February RecapMy Profile

  7. […] A Reader of Fictions: “Do you have a vast imagination and love to think about the worlds it could create? Do you like middle grade novels that will creep you out and make you think? If yes, then you need The Riverman in your life, I promise.” […]

  8. I liked most of this, but the ending really put a damper on my enjoyment of the novel. I freaking HATE open ended endings like that. I can’t think of one I have enjoyed. Like, give me SOME ANSWERS. I don’t care if you leave questions unanswered for the next book, but give me SOMETHING.

    That said, I loved the writing. Probably not going to continue reading this series though. But Bekka will. So she can review it for me. LOLOL.
    Kara @ Great Imaginations recently posted…Blog Tour: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer–Guest Post and ReviewMy Profile

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