Mini Review: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

The Riverman
Aaron Starmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.
Released March 18, 2014
320 pages
Middle Grade / Fantasy

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“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.

Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman is an unusual book that hit me just right to fulfill a need that I didn’t realize I had. It’s a charming middle grade novel that explores the meaning of stories and how they can affect everyday life. It’s told in retrospect by 12-year-old Alistair from the mid-80s and it has a very 80s feel while still having a timeless feel to it. He reunites with his odd childhood friend Fiona, who begins telling him a giant fantastical tale about a water world where anything you can imagine comes true.

Starmer not only wrote a multi-layered story with various side plots that all fit perfectly within the main story, but he also created a smart batch of younger characters, who felt authentic without being too overly precocious. Fiona is considered an oddball, but she’s really just hiding a giant secret life where her radiator talks to her. Alistair is just a normal guy, coasting beneath the radar at school and staying mostly out of trouble. He takes Fiona’s story as a very creative confession of real life wrongs that she can’t truly confess, allowing his own imagination to take her story and run with it by putting it into a real life context he understands. And for a time I truly thought this was going to become a Lifetime movie as my own imagination followed Alistair.

The Riverman was an unexpected treat with a wide open ending that I now see is because it’s the first in a trilogy. I was perfectly fine with the wide open ending even when I thought this was a standalone because the story felt complete even with the fate of some characters hanging in the balance. I’m curious to know if Starmer can keep up the whimsical nature of The Riverman for an entire trilogy, but I look forward to finding out.

 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.