- The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
For fourteen years, Alistair has managed to keep his head down and stay mostly ordinary, but one misstep—writing a weird story about aliens for seventh grade class—brings odd duck Fiona Loomis to his doorstep, requesting that Alistair write her biography. What she then tells Alistair is even stranger: she can travel to a magical place called Aquavania, where she and other kids like her essentially create worlds of their own, but the entire system is in peril from a menacing figure called the Riverman, a soul-sucking shadow who is responsible for the disappearance of several children and who is after Fiona next. Alistair is at first skeptical but then soon enchanted; convinced that Fiona is really trying to communicate some peril she’s experiencing in real life, he becomes obsessed with saving her, pinning the supposed kidnappings on her unbalanced uncle. Strange memories of a time when Alistair too was called to Aquavania come unbidden to him just as the behavior of a friend takes a dark turn, leaving Alistair with no one to trust, perhaps not even himself. Somewhere between Holly Black’s Doll Bones (BCCB 6/13) and Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & Gone (BCCB 3/13) in audience and tone, this blend of magical realism and mystery blurs the line between reality and fantasy, setting up a creepy unease that both disturbs and propels the reader forward. While it is awash with familiar tropes—the steady, humble protagonist, the sleepy small town with secrets, the manic pixie dreamgirl, the menacing male relative, etc.—the deliciously tangled web of a plot defies categorization and leaves each character utterly untrustworthy [End Page 379] while ultimately questioning the act of storytelling altogether. The events of the ambiguous ending can be interpreted in a few different ways, but each is so tragic that readers will be left pondering Alistair’s fate long after closing the book.