RIVER BOY by Tim Bowler


Age Range: 11 - 13
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Jess's grandfather, a noted painter, has suffered a heart attack. Grandpa insists his family carry on with plans to take him to his remote childhood home, obsessed as he is with finishing a painting titled "River Boy" in which there seems to be no "boy." Arriving at their vacation rental on the river, Jess begins to feel the presence of, and soon sees, a mysterious boy she calls the River Boy. Says the enigmatic young man, "If your grandpa died fulfilled, would you bear his loss better?" He then advises Jess to help finish the painting by being Grandpa's hands. The River Boy himself needs Jess's help. He wants to swim the river from source to sea and, fearful of swimming alone, wants Jess to swim with him. As the River Boy materializes from mere presence to actual boy, Grandfather fades. Then, the painting finished, he dies. The journey to the sea completed, the River Boy also vanishes at the moment of Grandpa's death. While the writing is quietly poetic, the theme universal, and the metaphor of the river that flows from source to sea apt (if not entirely fresh), the story does not compel. Thoughtful readers will easily predict that the elusive boy is Grandpa and that the death will be timed to coincide with the boy reaching the sea. Readers who do not, though, may tire of the repetitious family dithering over an old man who is tyrannical, emotionally remote, and self-absorbed. Sadly, his decline makes for reading more painful than engrossing. (1998 Carnegie Medal) (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-689-82908-6
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: McElderry
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2000


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