Review Detail

5.0 1
Middle Grade Fiction 252
A Must for Fans of Coraline
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
What I Loved:
The blurb of The Riverman pulled me in but also repelled me. How can I not be intrigued by a book that name-drops such awesome titles. But, by the same token, the audacity! It’s not necessarily a good idea to draw comparisons to Carroll, Lewis, and Gaiman, because that sets a seriously high bar. In this case, though, the blurb was spot on. The fantastical other-worldness of Lewis, the weirdness of Carroll, and the creep-factor of Gaiman combine in The Riverman.

To be clear, though I see the parallels, The Riverman never felt derivative. Starmer was inspired by a lot of things (he’s even blogged about them) but his creations shines with originality and cleverness. The Riverman is the sort of middle grade fiction that is just as enjoyable for adults, the kind that has an eerie magic no matter what your age might be. The writing is intelligent, and the book isn’t written down. It’s dark and high concept.

To be honest, I still don’t have everything in The Riverman figured out. The first and last chapters basically have me entirely stymied. Obviously, this is a book I’ll need to revisit through the years and I have every expectation of finding new things each time. Though it’s a quick read, it’s also densely packed with meaning and questions. This is a book for the ambitious child and for teens and adults who still love to be charmed by the power of the imagination.

Personally, I almost always like my middle grade fiction to be about highly intelligent kids. The Riverman falls into this category. I know some people feel like that’s a bit unrealistic, but, as an adult, those are the middle grade novels I find compelling. Nothing’s obvious. When the middle graders aren’t of above average intelligence, the plot twists are usually so clear from page one. In The Riverman, I was constantly staring at the book in disbelieving wonder, because Starmer kept blowing my mind, both with twists and darkness.

Be prepared for the coup of a century! No, wait. Sorry. Be prepared for something seriously dark. The Riverman falls just short of depressing. I mean, the whole thing is about the Riverman, who is going around the world and killing children. That’s pretty macabre stuff. Of course, I’m a firm believer in kids being able to handle some of that, as the success of Gaiman’s children’s books proves. Those are a good readalike for the dark and creepy aspects.

Alistair, the main character, is sort of blind-sided by Fiona Loomis. He didn’t know her well, and she’s suddenly forcing her way into his life, asking him to write her biography. She also insists that she’s several months older than her birthday would suggest. She begins to unfold her tale of another world, a world of pure imagination called Aquavania. My favorite part was the question of whether she was speaking truthfully or whether everything was a manifestation of some sort of abuse. Really deep psychological stuff.

What Left Me Wanting More:
There were a few things that left me scratching my head. I already mentioned the ending, which is rather open and I just really want to know what was happening exactly. Then there’s Fiona’s age. She’s constantly asserting what her true age, and she’s very positive that she’s precisely fourteen or whatever. How is she tracking time so accurately in her alternate world. Does time pass the same way it does here? Is she very good at keeping a calendar? Does she account for leap years? It just seemed strange to me, because I feel like I would automatically lose track of how long I’d been there, but I’ve always been horrid with dates.

The Final Verdict:
Do you have a vast imagination and love to think about the worlds it could create? Do you like middle grade novels that will creep you out and make you think? If yes, then you need The Riverman in your life, I promise.
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