London’s (The Seasons of Little Wolf, 2014) middle-grade novel follows six people on a transformative rafting trip.
Twelve-year-old Aaron and his father have embarked on a whitewater rafting trip down the Green River in the Desolation Canyon area of Utah. Joining them are their guide, Roger; his 12-year-old daughter; Lisa, Wild Man Willie; and his 16-year-old son, Cassidy. In 1991, the three fathers served together in the Iraq War. Since then, they’ve raised three very different children. Aaron is lanky and thoughtful; Lisa is a veteran river rafter; and Cassidy is a genuine juvenile delinquent who entered a detention center after beating a man with a baseball bat when he was 14. They clash early. Cassidy’s penchants for bullying (i.e. hurling large rocks) and risk-taking worry the other kids. To complicate matters, Aaron develops a crush on Lisa, whom he hopes to impress by mastering his first rafting experience. When Cassidy disrespects Aaron’s dad both physically and verbally, the trip starts to fall apart. Eventually, these two couple up in their own raft, only to vanish around a bend. A suspicious scrap of evidence nearly confirms Aaron’s worst fear as the group frantically searches the river and surrounding desert. The latest from YA author London is a wise and wonderful reading experience for anyone who loves—or is just learning to love—natural history. The briskly flowing narrative contains great details about desert life, always offered in lovely prose: “Here and there sparse forests of pinyon pine and juniper were clinging tenaciously to the high slopes and cliffs.” Elsewhere, London delivers some vivid characterization; we’re told that Cassidy has more “tattoos on his body than teeth in his head.” Most importantly, London provides space for sublime moments to blossom, including the nighttime scene when “the river flowed by, mirroring the Milky Way.” This coming-of-age tale also features enchanting illustrations by the author’s son, Sean.
A grand, well-rounded adventure that mixes nature, Native American lore, and the history of the Desolation Canyon region.