Oct 22, 2009

River Boy by Tim Bowler

River Boy by Tim Bowler

Jess’ grandfather, a slightly eccentric painter, is dying. It all begins while he's watching her swim one morning, and suddenly clutches his hand over his heart and crashes into the pool. He stays at the hospital for three days, after which he stubbornly refuses to be kept any longer. Jess' family had previously made plans to go on holidays to the place where Grandfather grew up, a place he hadn't visited in many decades, and he still insists on going. He's hoping that the peace and quiet will allow him to finish one last painting. The painting, a river scene, is called "River Boy", but as much as she looks, Jess sees no boy. Until, that is, when swimming in the river near the cottage where they're staying, she begins to feel a presence watching her...

River Boy is such a lovely book - even more so than I was expecting. I have to agree with Jenny, who said earlier this year that Tim Bowler reminded her slightly of David Almond. Part of it is the seamless interweaving of magic and reality. The book has some fantasy elements, but they're just barely present, either just beyond our reach or hiding in plain view. The setting itself feels magic - it's an unspecified location somewhere in England, and all we know about it is that it's isolated and there are cottages and hills and a river. But the way Tim Bowler describes the surrounding nature makes it feel alive.

The main thing that reminded me of Almond, however, was the subdued but very tender tone. This could have easily been a saccharine or pseudo-inspirational story, but it's really not. And the reason why not is because the tone is just right. So instead, what it is is a very gentle and lovely and bittersweet story about accepting death and coming to terms with loss.

Another thing Bowler gets just right is Jess’s relationship with her grandfather, which is portrayed very movingly. Jess' Grandfather is a very brisk and at times even unpleasant man. But he and Jess have a special connection, and thanks to this connection he is able to be vulnerable enough in front of her to accept help with he needs it. I can't specify this more because it's better if you find out exactly what happens for yourselves, but there are some very touching scenes.

Grandparents in literature fascinate me, specially close connections between a grandparent and a child. Possibly this is because I never really got to know any of mine. They either lived far away or passed when I was still very young. Do you have any grandparent books you'd recommend? I've read The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, which was lovely, and just recently I finished Kit's Wilderness by David Almond, which would also qualify (and which reminded me of this book, ha. I don't think Bowler is trying to be Almond or anything, and they both definitely have their own distinctive voice. It's probably more of a case of great minds thinking alike).

The reason why I picked up River Boy (other than Bart's recommendation, that is) is because I'm unofficially reading through the Carnegie Medal winners. I've been doing it for the same reason why I read through any award winners, really: I tend to like them. Anyway, I said "unofficially", but I've been meaning to start an official project to read them for months now. I even told my friend Susan we could join efforts, since she has her own Secret Project in the works, and then completely failed to follow through (I'm so sorry, Susan! I seem to volunteer to do more stuff than I can possibly handle while still remaining sane).

Would anyone be interested in this? It'd be a relaxed thing - if you don't like one of the winners, by all means move on to the next - and with no time limit, of course. At this point it might take me until the end of the year to put things together, but I thought I'd throw the idea out there and see if there's any interest. And back to River Boy: Read it. It's short, but it'll stay with you.

My favourite bit:
Yes, she was going to be OK. She wasn’t OK yet; she wouldn’t be OK for some time; but she would be OK one day. She would grieve, just like Mum and Dad, especially Dad, and her grief would be deep, and it would hurt her.
But she wanted that grief; she knew it was natural and right, just as the passing of this strange and wonderful man was natural and right, just as her own death would one day be natural and right. But there was much living to do first, much living, much growing.
Other opinions: Bart’s Bookshelf

(Did I miss yours?)

Granny Weatherwax
Aarti at Booklust has a weekly feature called Rosie’s Riveters, in which she asks bloggers to pick one of the most memorable female characters they’ve come across and tell readers about her. I volunteered to contribute, and my post is up this week. My riveter (I wonder what she’d say about being called a riveter, ha) is Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Please click over to Aarti’s blog if you’re interested in finding out why I love her! And then stick around, because Aarti is awesome.


  1. Oh dear, this sounds very sad. I may put off reading it for now. I had masses of grandparents growing up, and only recently lost my mother's father, so it's still a bit fresh. The only grandparent books I can think of right now are Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming books, which aren't very good. I will have a think & get back to you. :P

  2. It's interesting that you don't see many books with grandparent relationships. I can think of two that are about parents who are also grandparents or of grandparent age that, to me, were wonderful in part because of the age of the characters and the difference it made it their lives. One is "Thanks for the Memories" by Cecelia Ahern and the other is "The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society" by Christine Coleman.

  3. I've done so poorly with challenges this year, I told myself I wouldn't do another one...but maybe, if it's not really official with no deadlines...I am definitely interested in reading more YA. This could be one way to get there.

    Funny, I never thought before you asked, but I cannot off the top of my head think of a book where grandparents play a significant role. I was very close to my maternal grandparents, especially my grandmother, who passed away 20 years ago this month, in fact. How strange! I must go look through my books...

  4. What an interesting concept. I've heard of this book but never actually felt like reading it...until now.

    I never got to know any grandparent of mine too, so in a way I'm attracted to such elements too.

    I would be interested in the Carnegie Medal winners thing too but not while I'm in India where I probably won't be able to find most of the books, Possibly when I move to Singapore in December. It would be fun though, I can tell :)

  5. Oh, I'm definitely in! So many Carnegie winners I've been wanting to read, and yet have only ever actually read one. How pathetic is that?!! (Of course, the one I did read was sooooo awesome--Maurice.)

    I had such extremely different relationships with my grandparents...my maternal grandparents were two of the most wonderful people in this whole entire world and my paternal grandmother--well, I've told you a bit about her before. :( But you know that description you gave of Jess and her grandpa brought me right to tears, because it reminded me so much of Annie and Rich's dad. He was a wonderful man, but he was definitely reserved, not tending toward the showing of affection or really even opening up all that much. And while he definitely loved all his grandchildren, Annie was the one who stole his heart. Those two were wonderful to watch...they just related on this whole different level with each other than they did with anyone else. Anyway, that relationship alone leaves me aching to read this book. Thanks for another beautiful, beautiful review, Ana!

  6. Sounds sad but in a good way (if that makes any sense). I too never got to know my grandparents...they had all passed away before I was born. From what I've learned about them, they were rather interesting to say the least.

  7. Oh, I wish I could join you in your unofficial Carnegie challenge, but I'm knee-deep in my Booker efforts. I like the sound of The River Boy, though. Children's relationships with their grandparents is not a subject dealt with in too many books.

  8. River Boy sounds like a great book.Try The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. It's a granddaughter/grandfather story that is just so well-written. Kelly is one of my favorite authors now.

    I'll love to join you in your project.

  9. This sounds like a really moving book. But really, you could review Spaghetti-os and do it so eloquently that they'd seem like high cuisine ;-)

    I am not sure about the Carnegie challenge, mostly because I don't know what the Carnegie award is or how many books have earned it! I'll look into it and get back to you :-)

    And thank you for all the nice things you say about me at the end of your post. I'm blushing! And yes, the post is up, to boost the fan base of Granny Weatherwax.

  10. I really like the cover to this book, but not sure if it is something I would have to read...

    Your guest post on Aarti's blog was great! Reminds me I need to read more Discworld so I can get to the point where Granny becomes a main character instead of just a background one. :)

  11. This seems really nice. I would hazard a guess that there is a great amount of room for crying in it as well. ;p

  12. As usual, your review has made me want to read the book.

  13. I've always yearned for a grandpa-grandma connection. My grandparents have also passed away, and I never really got the chance to know them. Grandparents are so awesome! The elderly have so many stories and experiences to tell you, I could listen for hours...


  14. This sounds like such a beautiful read. I've always liked novels that have that subdued hint of magic. Reading through the Carnegie winners sounds like a great idea!

  15. What a beautiful review! I really admire your writing.

  16. sounds like a wonderful, sad, moving book. thanks for the great review :-)

  17. I don't think I've came across many books that feature on grandparent relationships, so thanks for introducing this book to me, Nymeth! This sounds like a powerful read to me!

  18. Another book on relationship that appeals to me. Thanks for this great review, Ana. I am keeping this on the wish list as well. :D

  19. A REALLY good book on grandmothers is the latest Margaret Forster which is coming out next year, called Isa and May. I've just read a proof copy and hugely recommend it.

  20. Bowler's become one of my favourite authors this last year or so, but I'm guessing you realised that!

    You're right, there is a similarity with Almond's writing and you're right I think it's very much to do with the tone they use.

    Glad you liked this one, you should try Starseaker next.

  21. Thanks for this recommendation. I like the sound of River Boy.

  22. Nymeth - A wonderful review, as always. I especially like your focus Bowler's tone. I've never read any of his books but and adding him to my TBR list.

    I am definitely interested in the Carnegie Medal project if you and Susan are organizing it.

  23. I spent the first twelve years of my life in a house with my grandparents and my mother, and it was wonderful. And yet, I can not think of any grandparent books off the top of my head. Hmmm, you'd think this would be something I noticed.

  24. Sounds interesting. You know, I've said this a million times before but I'm always amazed at how many of the books you review I've never even heard of! I'd be interested in your project, as long as it's relaxed! ;-)

  25. Jenny: It IS sad :( And in that case, I'd wait a while, yes. I'm sorry for your loss :(

    Jill: Thank you for the recommendations! I definitely do wish there were more of them.

    Priscilla: Yeah, I wanted it to be a more relax, informal reading project rather than a challenge exactly so that there would be no pressure. I'm not doing well with my challenges this year either :\

    Violet: I shouldn't be able to get it moving until next year anyway. You know, I thought I'd have trouble finding the books too, but BookMooch has been my friend!

    Debi: Maurice is the most awesome of them all, of course :D But I've enjoyed all the ones I've read so far. I remember when Rich's dad passed away, and how sad Annie was :( *hugs*

    GMR: It does make sense! And that's exactly the feeling the book gave me. It's sad, but also full of life, full of acceptance.

    Hazra: I'm doing a Pulitzer and Printz project in addition to this one, but then again, I'm insane :P

    Vasilly: Oooh, thank you for reminding me that I want to read that!

    Aarti: lol!! Hey, nothing wrong with spaghetti-os ;) The Carnegie is sort of the UK equivalent of the Newbery - except not QUITE, because both children's and YA books have won.

    Kelly, you definitely do need to read more Discworld!

    She: You would be right :P

    Kathi, I'm glad to hear it, as it is a good book :P

    Sharry: Exactly! I really wish I'd had the chance to know mine better :( Especially my grandmothers...one passed away before I was born, the other when I was only 4.

    Belle: I'm glad to hear you like the idea!

    Stephanie, you make me blush!

    Marie, it is! And thank you.

    Melody: There don't seem to be that many of them. But I'm always happy when I find one :)

    Alice, I hope you enjoy it!

    Verity: Many thanks for the recommendation! I'll add it to my wishlist.

    Bart, Starseeker is definitely on the list!

    Jenclair: It's so lovely and bittersweet. I think you'd enjoy it.

    Gavin: I'm glad to hear it! Hopefully I'll get my act together and actually start working on it soon :P

    Trisha: I'd love to hear about them if you remember any later on!

    Joanna, I promise it'd be VERY relaxed!

  26. Your reviews are always wonderfully written and always explain so fully why a book was so moving for you. I really admire that. I think this looks like a really heartfelt read and like something that would probably inspire a good cry in me. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

  27. I thought of starting a Carnegie reading project a long time ago, but seeing how bad I am at keeping up with all the other projects, I didn't follow through. But if you start one, I will join!( and then fail miserably...)

  28. Zibilee, thank you so much! I love yours too, you know!

    Valentina, there'd be no time limit, and so no possibility of failing :P If you wanted to co-host with me that would be awesome, actually!


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