Friday, October 31, 2008

The River Between Us

Peck, Richard. 2003. The River Between Us. New York: Dial Books ISBN 0803727356

Plot Summary:
Set right before the start of the Civil War, The River Between Us chronicles a year in the life of the Pruitt family and the changes each member undergoes when two total strangers are given shelter in their home. The two strangers, mere women from New Orleans, transform forever the life of the protagonist Tilly and her twin brother Noah. An alternative narrator at the beginning and end of the novel provides the unbelievable twist at the end which Richard Peck is so skillful at providing.

Critical Analysis:
Richard Peck researched an area of the Civil War of which many people are unaware. The 'Glorious South' is well-known due to novels and movies such as Gone With The Wind and North and South. Not too many children's/young adult novels deal with the topic and few touch on the places seldom mentioned in the history books, like Grand Tower, Illinois.
The glory of war is left out of Peck's novel and readers are given manageable doses of the truth in how horrible the War Between the States really was. The characters are allowed to vent their opinions of the war, demonstrating how some families, towns, and states could be divided in their feelings about the issue of slavery and states' rights and keeping the Union together.
Peck mentions key battles like the Battle of Belmont and important towns such as Cairo, Illinois, and rounds out characters by using regional dialect and language, especially the mercurial Delphine when she shrieked, "Jambalaya! Merci, bon Dieu, we are saved!" Readers can visualize Calinda in her tignon selling her New Orleans candy, pralines, yelling at the people on the river steamboats, "Last chance for Prawleens, New Orleans style!"
However, the most poignant sentence comes from the protagonist Tilly when she says, "I looked back on the way life had been yesterday, and couldn't find it."
Richard Peck uses a flashback in the novel by using a boy, age 15, who is a great-grandchild of Tilly in 1916. Upon a visit back to Grand Tower, he discovers family secrets that he now will have to keep tucked away inside, to bring out later in life, perhaps when he has a great-grandchild.

Review Excerpts:
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-In the opening days of the Civil War, a genteel but worldly wise young woman and her companion step off a steamboat from New Orleans onto the dock of a provincial Illinois town. This richly told and evocatively realized novel tells how the strangers are taken into the Pruitts' home (and into their hearts), changing all of the characters' lives forever. Winner of the 2003 Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly
In our Best Books citation, PW wrote, "The author crafts his characters impeccably and threads together their fates in surprising ways that shed light on the complicated events of the Civil War." Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Use novel to help show the differences between the North and the South and their opinions about the War
Include in study of Civil War along with other novels based on the time period

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