The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand

I put Mary Jane Beaufrand’s The River on my wishlist months ago. I remember reading about it on a blog and immediately adding it to the list of books I wanted to read. All I remember is that the premise, a missing little girl, grabbed me because it sounded like a true-crime novel. Last week I purchased my copy after weeding through my wish list and boy and boy am I glad I did!

The River is the story of Ronnie Severance, a high schooler whose parents move her from Portland, Oregon to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, hours away from her friends. She doesn’t fit in and she is haunted by the sounds of the Santiam River, running right through her backyard. She misses the sounds of traffic, yelling pedestrians, and other city noises. The river provides an eery and dark soundtrack to her new and depressing life.

The single bright spot in Ronnie’s life is Karen, a young girl that she babysits. Despite their obvious difference in age, Ronnie and Karen connect as friends. Karen brings out a more adventurous side in Ronnie while she tries to keep Karen a little more tethered to the earth. (Someone has to be responsible!) But when Karen is found drowned in the Santiam, everything changes. While the police feel that it is nothing more than a tragic accident, Ronnie is haunted by the feeling that something more sinister happened. And when she begins to investigate on her own she takes her life into her hands.

This is a page-turner that is full of suspense. I began reading it Friday and could not put it down. I read it during silent reading, read it when I got home, and finished it before bed. Beaufrand keeps her reader on the edge of their seat with a completely realistic murder investigation. I felt like it was ripped from the headlines, in a good way!

This book deals with the murder of a young child and the ramifications of meth use on addicts and those who love them. The death and drug usage are mature, but I don’t think I would keep my 6th graders from reading it. They are great self-censorers and I know some of them have dealt with issues equally as weighty in their own lives. I think this is an important book because meth usage has spread over the last decade and has really destroyed many small-towns. While I was aware of this, the story really drives home how powerful the drug is and that almost anyone can fall victim to peer pressure and addiction. Our choices affect others and can even result in death. The River is a great example of a pebble being thrown into a pond- the ripples of our actions spread farther than we can imagine or control.