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Monday, March 24, 2014

(MMGM) The Riverman Blog Tour {Review & Interview}

I'm thrilled to have The Riverman Blog Tour stopping by today, as part of the March MG Madness...

The Riverman
(The Riverman Trilogy #1)
by Aarom Starmer
Farrar Strauss Giroux

"To sell a book, you need a description on the back. So here's mine: My name is Fiona Loomis. I was born on August 11, 1977. I am recording this message on the morning of October 13, 1989. Today I am thirteen years old. Not a day older. Not a day younger."

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.

I’ve read hundreds of middle-grade books, books of all kinds- fantasy, contemp, sci-fi, silly, coming of age, sad, funny, full of talking animals, full of magic, full of fun, etc- so trust me when I say that Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman is quite unlike ANY middle-grade book I’ve ever read. With a dazzlingly original premise, entirely engrossing story, and relatable characters, The Riverman is a truly unforgettable book.

Twelve year old Alistair is approached by classmate, Fiona Loomis, and asked to write her biography. Intrigued by this strange request and even stranger girl, Alistair agrees. But the story Fiona spins isn’t one he expects. Fiona tells of another world, Aquavania, where children are the Gods of their own creations. Fiona has being going to her world in Aquavania for years and claims that a creature called the Riverman is stealing souls and making children disappear, and Fiona fears she’s next. Alistair isn’t sure what to make of Fiona’s wild claims, but quickly comes to care for the girl and sets out to uncover the truth...what he finds will change things forever.

There are many words I could use to describe The Riverman: dark, palpable, poignant, beautifully strange, captivating, smart, and so on. However, I think the three words that best work are Haunting, Thought-Provoking, and Unforgettable.

Dealing with some darker, more mature themes, I think The Riverman is best suited for an older middle-grade audience, but will find a large teen and adult audience as well. Alistair’s immediate situation and Fiona’s fantastical tale are perfectly interwoven, creating an utterly unique and enthralling story. The Real World setting and Aquavania are both vividly and complexly laid out. Aquavania is both enchanting and terrifying in its beauty, power, and pull, and given the chance, I would totally go there! Starmer weaves an utterly haunting tale. Haunting in its macabre atmosphere, its chilling villain, the way it wraps around the reader and refuses to leave you long after the last page.

Thought-provoking in so many ways, The Riverman had my mind and imagination spinning from page one to well beyond the end. What’s real? What’s made up? What’s the story beneath the story and the story beneath that one? What does it all mean? What’s it really about? I’m still asking myself these questions. This book is bound to speak to readers, both young and old, and probably in a hundred different ways. I love how very open both Alistair and Fiona’s stories are to interpretation.

There’s so much about The Riverman that makes it unforgettable: the engrossing storytelling, compelling premise, and, of course, the characters. Starmer does a wonderful job of creating very layered, complex characters. Both Alistair and Fiona feel incredibly real. Endearing, compassionate Alistair and witty, creative Fiona are stellar as both individuals and a heart-wrenching pair. These two young characters gave me ALL the feels and touched me in ways that still have my heart both aching and bursting.

My Final Thoughts: This beautifully unique story not only fully engaged my mind and imagination, but has yet to leave me. Aaron Starmer has created something truly magical and special with The Riverman.


What three words best describe The Riverman?
Emotional, Mysterious and Unique.

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give The Riverman a try?
If one of your friends told you that there was a portal in her basement and it led to a magical land where a creature named The Riverman was stealing children’s souls, would you believe her, or would you fear for her sanity?

Grab a copy of The Riverman and answer the following:
favorite chapter?
Halloween, Part III

favorite page?

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser?
Men sat in upholstered chairs on their porches, smoking and watching the street. Their drags were long and menacing and made the cigarette tips glow a sickly orange. Cars moved slowly, as if they weren’t really going anywhere. They were nothing but steel wolves, out roaming.

What inspired The Riverman? How did the story come to be?
Loads of things. Stories my dad told me as a kid. My own childhood in central New York. Classic fantasies like Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Over a period of ten years, I had started writing three books that never got off the ground. One was about two boys living in a small town and how their friendship falls apart. Another was about a boy and a girl who go on a first date and discover that strange, possibly supernatural coincidences are drawing them together. The third was about a magical land where children are gods. For The Riverman, I melded those stories together into you standard nostalgic, romantic, totally weird, coming-of-age fantasy novel.

There are some memorable characters in The Riverman, do you have a favorite? What do you love about him/her? Did any of your characters end up surprising even you with the way they turned out?
The character most people will hate, or at least find most annoying, is Charlie. But I feel for him (as does my editor). He’s a jerk, no doubt, but there’s a sadness to him that’s undeniable. And he has a strange code of loyalty. As I wrote him, I became more attached to him, which definitely surprised me. He started as a bit one note (a needy wiseass), but I don’t think kids are as cut-and-dry as “geek,” “jock,” “bully,” “victim,” etc. They’re complex and deserving of both our ire and our empathy.

In The Riverman, your character Fiona asks her neighbor Alistair to write her biography...who would you ask to write YOUR biography and what would it be called?
Tough question! It would have to be someone I didn’t know, so I could be completely honest about everything. Maybe we could conjure the ghost of Truman Capote, because his writing is nearly perfect. Though he’d probably make up stuff about me. I love the epic yet anecdotal way Susan Orlean presents her stories. I once had a Twitter exchange with her. That’s enough to convince her to write it, right? We’ll call it…Enemy of Aardvarks. The reason for the title should be obvious.

As a middle-grade author, why do you think middle-grade is so important? What do you love about writing and reading middle-grade?
I think it’s important because the young people reading these books are just discovering what novels are and can be. They’re open to new and strange ideas. They’re willing to get emotionally involved in a story. It gives me a lot of freedom as a writer, much more than people who don’t know much about middle grade might suspect. I got into writing because I love telling stories. And the main requirement for writing middle grade is writing an engaging story. Everything else is a bonus. And once you hook readers at this age, they can become life-long readers.

What is your all time favorite middle-grade book, middle-grade hero, and middle-grade heroine?
When I was a kid, my favorite was probably Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvelous Medicine. Maybe it still is. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I’m guessing I’d still find it delightfully twisted. I was also a big fan of John Bellair’s The House with a Clock in its Walls. It taught me a lot about writing suspense. As for heroes, I’d have to go with Billy Coleman from Where the Red Fern Grows, mainly because I felt deeply connected to him. I grew up next to a state park and spent a good part of my childhood exploring the woods, often with my dogs. As for a heroine, I’d pick Lyra from The Golden Compass. So often, middle grade heroines are presented as “feisty” and that’s all there is too them. It’s like they’re all variations on Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. I liked Lyra because she was kind of unlikable, but she was also strong and vulnerable and smart and impulsive and you understood her shortcomings. In my mind, the bar for intelligent, complex middle grade fantasy is set by Pullman’s trilogy. The rest of us are trying to catch up.

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at Cooking enchiladas.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that I Google the names of my books far too much. I can’t help wondering what people think of them. Of course, I often regret what I find, but the curse of the internet is that this stuff is available anywhere, all the time. I don’t know how other authors resist (or claim to resist). 

The last great book I read was The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I had a few tiny issues with it, but it was one of the most convincing books about memory and perceptions of childhood. In many ways, it’s a middle grade novel written for adults. I’ve also been catching up on some recent popular middle grade and YA, likeEleanor & Park, The Fifth Wave and The One and Only Ivan. I’ve enjoyed all of them to varying degrees. And I’ve been reading some friends books. Seven Stories Up is another meticulously crafted jewel-box of a novel from Laurel Snyder. Melancholy and magical all at once. I’m halfway through Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff. It’s a teen romance about escaping into fantasy and video games and the characters feel real in ways that few novels accomplish. They’re hopeful and angry, confused and confident, bored and yet overwhelmed with life. Like all teenagers, at least the ones I remember.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Riverman, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
It’s would be dark (chocolate, maybe a bit of coffee). Not much frosting, because I don’t like overly sweet things. Bittersweet, though? Definitely. Maybe mint frosting? There’d have to be a surprise in the center, but nothing gross. I’d call it…Stolen Souls.

Aaron Starmer was born in northern California, raised in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York, and educated at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. His novels for young readers include Dweeb and The Only Ones, and his travel writing has appeared in numerous guidebooks. He lives with his wife in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Tuesday, March 18: Alice Marvels
Wednesday, March 19: Book Jems
Thursday, March 20: Maria’s Melange
Friday, March 21: Books and Whimsy
Saturday, March 22: Great Imaginations
Sunday, March 23: Nerdy Book Club & Sharp Read
Monday, March 24Word Spelunking
Tuesday, March 25Live to Read
Wednesday, March 26Read, Write, Reflect


Brenda said...

Like the description, emotional, thought provoking, mysterious. The cover is wonderful too.

Anonymous said...

I started reading this one yesterday and what you say here:

trust me when I say that Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman is quite unlike ANY middle-grade book I’ve ever read.

Nails it. The voice is so compelling and combine that with the premise? My oh my.

Jillyn said...

This book sounds so incredibly intriguing. It sounds creepy and enthralling all at once.

roro said...

I love this booooook

Orchid said...

You know what, I think I have this one on my TBR. Definitely going to have to move it up my list now.

Michelle @ In Libris Veritas said...

This certainly sounds like a different sort of MG book! It sounds like it's a really enchanting and well woven story.