The Riverman started off very strong. Alistair Cleary is the kind of young person who exudes a quiet strength of character that you just know will translate into a compassionate, ethical adult. He has known his neighbors Charlie and Fiona since they were small children. All three children are loners in their own way. Charlie needs Alistair’s reassurance that he is his “best friend.” Alistair simply agrees because he has no other “best friend” and has always felt rather obligated to him since Charlie doesn’t have any other friends to speak of.
Fiona Loomis lives down the street. Her family and Alistair’s used to socialize when the kids were 5 and 6 years old but gradually stopped spending time together. Alistair still sees Fiona at school and admires her independent choices in clothing and behavior style. When she approaches Alistair to write her biography, claiming she travels to an imaginary land “where stories are born” called Aquavania and is now being hunted by the malevolent Riverman he is flattered and intrigued.
Alistair’s tender heart begins to believe that Fiona has made up Aquavania as an escape from a very real and sinister danger in her own home. Gradually realizing how important Fiona’s safety and happiness is to him, Alistair appeals to Charlie’s rebellious older brother, Kyle, for help in formulating some sort of ‘rescue’ plan. For me, the moments with Kyle were some of the most gripping in the book.
Alistair grapples with feelings and ideas involving love, loyalty and friendship. His vulnerability and compassion are extraordinary but not overdone. As Alistair tries to determine what he should believe so does the reader. Are Fiona’s, Alistair’s and Charlie’s lives intertwined in reality as they have grown up in the same neighborhood? In Aquavania where stories are born? Both? Neither? Who IS the Riverman? Does he really exist? Is he a creation of Fiona’s imagination or is he a living, deadly predator?
At the close of The Riverman the reader is left to decide for herself if Charlie and Fiona and Alistair have come to the end of journey that leaves a trail of tragedy, of deep and utter sadness, or of a quiet, peaceful joy. The Riverman is a thoughtful, often enthralling read. Be aware that it is a book with mature themes in content and philosophical ideas that certainly leaves the reader thinking. Or wondering. Or mad at the author.
***As a side note: I highly recommend Aaron Starmer’s book D.W.E.E.B. It’s a funny, creepy book for slightly younger readers about a conspiracy to use children’s brains by drugging them through fast food provided in their schools. Entertaining and quirky for upper elementary and middle school readers!