March 6, 2014

The Riverman - Aaron Starmer

The Riverman book cover Aaron Starmer
The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
Publisher: Farrar, Strous & Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Source/Format: Netgalley (Thank you, Macmillan!) || e-galley
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

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. (from Goodreads)

The Riverman has many appealing elements, especially for those of us who like fantasies -- a girl who travels to another world, a boy who gets drawn into this girl's alternate reality, and a very creepy villain who is stealing souls. Sadly, these three things converged into a story that, though I finished it, failed to really leave an impression.

The one thing I did enjoy about this book is the imagination that went into it. In particular, the world of Aquavania, a world where stories are born from the mind of each new visitor, is supremely creative. The idea that one can control what their world is like, complete with inhabitants and activities, is attractive (especially if you're an aspiring author). 

It also comes with a nasty villain in the form of the Riverman, who sounds positively evil. Would it be strange to say that the Riverman is my favorite character? Because he is, even though he barely appears for most of the novel. The fact that he represents the imminent death of anything imagined in Aquavania is creepy, which is just the way I like bad guys to be.

Apart from the inventive content, The Riverman just kind of... existed. There's a story, one that combines events in the real world with events in Aquavania (as retold by Fiona). I didn't particularly connect with our narrator Alistair or the fanciful Fiona, as there were parts where I was simply uninterested in what was going on. So, the story went on, and I kept reading, but there was really no emotional attachment.

If there's one thing that surprises me about The Riverman, it's the darkness of its content for a novel for children. There are mature topics - drinking, drugs, kidnapping, murder among them - included. All these things, even if they were uncomfortable to read about, emphasized the stakes in this story - for Alistair, for Fiona and for other people too, so I don't think they were included unnecessarily.

While The Riverman didn't work for me, there's sure to be readers who will like it more than I did. Whimsy mingles with darkness and real life on nearly every page. If the reader is able to truly find a connection with Alistair, or even with Fiona, that will certainly be key for them to enjoy the story a little bit more.


  1. "a world where stories are born from the mind of each new visitor" that sounds more creative

  2. This sounds really creepy, but yeah, those mature topics do sound a bit out of place in an MG book! Not sure I'll get around to reading this one, but it does sound interesting!

  3. Yes, it is dark for a MG book. I would definitely reserve this one for the know-your-audience pile. Don't just hand it to any kids. But my MG students do love their dark books.

    I really liked Alistair and Fiona, but agree that the story just sort of existed. I was thoroughly bored at some points and the end really annoyed me. I feel cheated.


Thanks for leaving a comment! I love seeing what you have to say, and will try to reply (here or on Twitter) as soon as I can :)