Wild River tells the story of Ryan’s and his older brother, Tanner’s, kayaking trip. The author does a nice job of creating a believable voice for Ryan–a middle school boy who prefers video games to outdoor activities. The fact that Ryan’s expertise with outdoor adventures is much less than Tanner’s is essential to the story. Ryan depends on Tanner to direct the kayaking trip and whatever obstacles arise but an accident forces Ryan into the leadership role.
When Ryan finds himself in a situation he must problem-solve without his brother’s help he relies on the skills and knowledge he uses when video-gaming and applies them to his current crisis. For example: realizing that in a video game trying the same thing over and over does not result in success gives Ryan the idea to look at each obstacle he encounters on the river from new and varied perspectives.
I am not a huge fan of kid-survival-in-the-wilderness stories. I tend to lose interest when an author spends a lot of time (more than 2 sentences) describing in detail how a particular tool is fashioned or a particular maneuver is performed. So for someone like me who processes things more by seeing them than reading a description I found myself bored and starting to skim pages on a few occasions in Wild River. For this reason the pacing felt a little uneven to me, but the language and short chapters are ideally suited to early 3rd & 4th grade readers.
If a young reader likes the survival/adventure genre then Wild River is an okay introduction to the genre–a jumping off place for books like the famed Hatchett by Gary Paulsen.