Starmer, A. (2014). The Riverman. New York, NY: Square Fish: Farrar Straus Giroux.
When I first heard about The Riverman it was described as the story of a girl like Alice who came back from Wonderland. Which was the inspiration Aaron Starmer started with for this creepy and crazy tale, and a brilliant description. In the book Alistair is a pretty ordinary twelve year old boy until his weird classmate Fiona starts telling him a strange story about Aquavania. She first went there when she was four years old transported by the water in her boiler and found a magic world where she could create anything with her imagination. This story reminds Alistair of a similar experience where the water in his goldfish bowl called out to him but he was too afraid to touch the water, despite this experience he still doesn’t believe her especially when she says the Riverman is coming to get her. She tells him about the other lands she has traveled to in Aquavania, the other kids she has met, and how some of those kids have gone missing both in Aquavania and in the solid world. He starts to think that this story is about someone else that she is trying to get him to help save her from someone else. Eventually he decides that someone is her Uncle, and has his friend Charlie’s older brother Kyle threaten him to try to make him stop. This doesn’t help Fiona though who now has an even wilder claim she discovered the identity of the Riverman and it’s his friend Charlie. He doesn’t believe her and everything starts falling apart when she goes missing. Her Uncle turns out to be innocent and believes something bad has happened to Fiona. Alistair doesn’t know what to believe anymore, was she so obsessed with these missing kids because she wanted to be one of them or was she telling the truth? Then one day he finds his old goldfish bowl and a journal of stories about the missing kids from Aquavania in Charlies room and confronts him. Fiona was right he is the Riverman though he calls himself the Whisper. That night when Alistair didn’t touch the fishbowl Charlie was sleeping over and he went to Aquavania and became the Riverman. During the confrontation Alistair accidentally shoots Kyle when he comes to see what the boys are fighting about. He calls 911 and hides at Fiona’s house where he hears the radiator calling to him the same way it called to her and his fishbowl called to him all those years ago. The adventure starts up again in the second book in the trilogy The Whisper.
This is a great adventure for tweens that combines realistic fiction and fantasy. Barnes and Nobel lists the book as being for readers age 10-14 which fits as the story is pretty dark in places and hints at the dangerous that face missing kids including some references to perverts and kids being kept captive by abductors. There is also a little bit of romance between Fiona and Alistair and while it only culminates in a single kiss so there is nothing adult there it does add to the sense that this is a book for older tweens and teens. While the story originally was inspired by Alice in Wonderland it reminded me more of Coraline due to the menacing nature of the magical world thanks to the Riverman. It is fascinating how the story blends the terrors of the real world with the nightmarish Riverman and it makes the story a unique read for tweens. This book would be a good fit for book lists or book displays of scary stories for Halloween and a creepy fun read for tweens year round.