Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The River

I first came across Mary Jane Beaufrand's The River in an author interview on The YA YA YAs. Teen mystery set in the Cascades with a heroine compared to Veronica Mars? Sign me up.

Veronica Severance has moved from Portland to rural Oregon with her celebrity chef mom and her burned-out former public defender father. The hows and whys of her move unfold slowly through the story, but she makes it clear from the beginning she isn't happy about the change. She's taken a while to settle in, but she has hit it off with one of the children in her isolated area, Karen Armstrong. Despite the significant age gap (Veronica babysits for Karen), they've become friends. Her discovery of Karen's body kicks off the action and the rest of the novel centers on Ronnie slowly trying to unravel the chain of events that led to Karen's death.

The River has a lot of potential to be awesome. Its isolated setting in rural Oregon, along the Santiam River, is unusual. Its cast of characters aren't cookie cutter and as a reader you're allowed to slowly get to know them. Speaking of cookies, reading about the food cooked by our heroine's mother drove me a bit crazy (in good way) as I wanted to eat everything she made. But all of this didn't quite add up to a book I wanted to press upon the next person I met.

Here's the thing. If your publisher compares your novel to Veronica Mars and you actually name your heroine Veronica, she better be pretty kick ass. And Ronnie is just...okay. She's the kind of character who figures out a clue and then, literally, runs off into obvious danger without alerting any of the many friendly authority figures dotting the landscape. Veronica Mars may have done the same, but she'd have taken Backup, a taser, and done a bit of recon. I know it's not fair to compare the two, but I I kept wishing Ronnie had a little more zip to her personality and her narration.

I feel pretty torn on how to rate The River. On the one hand, Beauford does an excellent job of grounding the story in a very specific place. Her writing is clear and vivid. You can feel the rural Northwest setting - with the overcast skies and running cold water. And she creates some characters I'd like to know better. Buuuut the action feels slow, Ronnie herself is kind of boring, and I never really bought the romance that develops near the end of the novel.

So I'd say, read if you like Northwest-set novels and/or mysteries, skip it if any of the problems I just outlined sound like deal breakers. That goes for everyone BUT Elizabeth, who should read it so we can dissect whether or not I'm being overly critical of poor Ronnie.

No comments:

Post a Comment