The Depths of The Riverman Triology

Books GeekMom
Image By Farrar Straus Giroux Press

“Aargh!” I yelled.
My son poked his head out of his room, “You finished the second book, right?”
“It’s so good, right?”
“And now we have to wait for the third book!”

This is about The Whisper, the second book in the The Riverman trilogy by Aaron Starmer. My teen son was in-between books, saw The Riverman on our shelf, devoured it, read The Whisper, and asked, “Where’s the third one?” I let him know it wasn’t out yet. That’s when he let out his own sigh of frustration, and then told me to read the books so at least we could discuss them.

These books are ones you will want to talk about.

Now before I get into the ever-moving plot, the complex characters, the imaginative worlds-within-worlds, I want to talk about Starmer’s writing. There are plenty of modern YA authors who are good storytellers, but not so many are good writers. Aaron Starmer is an intelligent writer that paints pictures with his words.

“Cars moved slowly, as if they weren’t really going anywhere. They were nothing but steel wolves, out roaming.”

“The spot where her nose had been broken all those years ago–that knobby bit of cartilage right below her eyes–made me imagine that a tiny asteroid had crashed into her face and had determined the orbit of her life. She probably hated that asteroid, but to me it was essential.”

“Your mind is constantly wishing, even if you don’t realize it.”

In the first book of the series, the main character, twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary, wonders what is real or not; what’s the story behind the story? The reader is waiting along with him. Fiona Loomis, his neighbor, has decided he should write her biography. She tells him about traveling to a magical world where imagination rules, where storytellers can see creations come to life around them, where children are gods. It is called Aquavania.

“In Aquavania you can create anything your mind can think up. You’d be surprised what your mind can’t create. It’s often the things you really need.”

Fiona describes the worlds she creates: creatures, landscapes, impossible things. Then she tells of other children imagining their own ridiculous, outlandish, weird creations. But the story Fiona tells Alistair has a dark edge, and she truly believes children are in danger, including herself. He decides that either Fiona is crazy, or hiding a terrible truth behind the fantasy. Can Alistair keep a secret? Should he? Does he truly understand what is going on? You will be guessing alongside him until the end. The next book ends with another twist to this tale. It’s a great ride.

“Well,” Charlie replied, setting down the controller, “the most powerful monsters are the ones that don’t even seem like monsters. They’re the little things, the soft things that sneak in and haunt you.”
“Ghosts?” Alistair asked. “That might be a good title.”
Charlie shook his head. “Whispers.”

Alistair is one of the most real and likable characters I’ve met in a long time. Too often, writers are unable to create young characters that are both heroic and true to their age. Alistair cares about people, he has a strong sense of right and wrong, and his need to help is genuine. But how to show he cares, seeing the gray areas in choices, and figuring what is the best way to help, are a struggle that is depicted honestly through this young man’s actions, words, and thoughts. His weaknesses frustrate him, but he doesn’t know how to change fast enough to keep up with the problems and events happening all around him. That’s relatable to all ages. Besides Alistair, the novel is full of characters that are conflicted, flawed, changing, and all too recognizable.

“He’s not a bad guy, deep down,” I said.
My dad slipped the key into the door. “Deep down, no one is. But you make choices.”

I recommend this for twelve and up. Kids younger than that can enjoy the story, but much is implied, things get dark, and the headier stuff will be appreciated more by an older reader. I can’t say much about the plot of The Riverman or The Whisper without giving everything away, which makes it hard to review, so you’ll have to trust me (and my son) on this: It’s very, very good.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

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