Alistair Cleary is the kid who everyone trusts. Fiona Loomis is not the typical girl next door. Alistair hasn't really thought of her since they were little kids until she shows up at his doorstep with a proposition: she wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into the mind of a potentially troubled girl. Fiona says that in her basement, there's a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona's soul could be next. If Fiona really believes what she's saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it's true, her life could be at risk. In this novel from Aaron Starmer, it's up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality.
About the Author
Aaron Starmer was born in northern California, raised in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York, and educated at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. His novels for young readers include Dweeb and The Only Ones, and his travel writing has appeared in numerous guidebooks. He lives with his wife in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Read an Excerpt
Every town has lost a child. Search the archives, ask the clergy. You’ll find stories of runaways slipping out of windows in the dark, never to be seen again. You’ll be told of custody battles gone ugly and parents taking extreme measures. Occasionally you’ll read about kids snatched from parking lots or on their walks home from school. Here today, gone tomorrow. The pain is passed out and shared until the only ones who remember are the only ones who ever really gave a damn.
Our town lost Luke Drake. By all accounts he was a normal twelve-year-old kid who rode his bike and got into just enough trouble. On a balmy autumn afternoon in 1979, he and his brother, Milo, were patrolling the banks of the Oriskanny with their BB rifles when a grouse fumbled out from some bushes. Milo shot the bird in the neck, and it tried to fly but crashed into a riot of brambles near the water.
"I shot, you fetch," Milo told Luke, and those words will probably always kindle insomnia for Milo. Because in the act of fetching, Luke slipped on a rock covered with wet leaves and fell into the river.
It had been a rainy autumn, and the river was swollen and unpredictable. Even in drier times, it was a rough patch of water that only fools dared navigate. Branch in hand, Milo chased the current along the banks as far as he could, but soon his brother’s head bobbed out of view, and no amount of shouting "Swim!" or "Fight!" could bring him back.
Experts combed the river for at least fifteen miles downstream. No luck. Luke Drake was declared missing on November 20, and after a few weeks of extensive but fruitless searches, almost everyone assumed he was dead, his body trapped and hidden beneath a log or taken by coyotes. Perhaps his family still holds out hope that he will show up at their doorstep one day, a healthy man with broad shoulders and an astounding tale of amnesia.
I saw Luke’s body on November 22, 1979. Thanksgiving morning. I was almost three years old, and we were visiting my uncle’s cabin near a calm but deep bend in the Oriskanny, about seventeen miles downstream from where Luke fell. I don’t remember why or how, but I snuck out of the house alone before dawn and ended up sitting on a rock near the water. All I remember is looking down and seeing a boy at the bottom of the river. He was on his back, most of his body covered in red and brown leaves. His eyes were open, looking up at me. One of his arms stuck out from the murk. As the current moved, it guided his hand back and forth, back and forth. It was like he was waving at me. It almost seemed as though he was happy to see me.
My next memory is of rain and my dad picking me up and putting me over his shoulder and carrying me back through the woods as I whispered to him, "The boy is saying hello, the boy is saying hello."
It takes a while to process memories like that, to know if they’re even true. I never told anyone about what I saw because for so long it meant something different. For so long it was just a boy saying hello, like an acquaintance smiling at you in the grocery store. You don’t tell people about that.
I was eleven when I finally put the pieces in their right places. I read about Luke’s disappearance at the library while researching our town’s bicentennial for a school paper. With a sheet of film loaded into one of the microfiche readers, I was scanning through old newspapers, all splotchy and purple on the display screen. I stopped dead on the yearbook picture of Luke that had been featured on missing posters. It all came rushing back, like a long-forgotten yet instantly recognizable scent. My uncle had sold the cabin by then, but it was within biking distance of my house, and I went out there the following Saturday and flipped over stones and poked sticks in the water. I found nothing. I considered telling someone, but my guilt prevented it. Besides, nine years had passed. A lot of river had tumbled through those years.
The memory of Luke may very well be my first memory. Still, it’s not like those soft and malleable recollections we all have from our early years. It’s solid. I believe in it, as much as I believe in my memory of a few minutes ago. Luke was our town’s lost child. I found him, if only for a brief moment.
Table of Contents
Friday, October 13,
Saturday, October 14,
Sunday, October 15,
Monday, October 16,
Tuesday, October 17,
Wednesday, October 18,
Thursday, October 19,
Friday, October 20,
Saturday, October 21,
Sunday, October 22,
Monday, October 23,
Tuesday, October 24,
Wednesday, October 25,
Thursday, October 26,
Friday, October 27,
Saturday, October 28,
Sunday, October 29,
Monday, October 30,
Wednesday, November 1,
Thursday, November 2,
Friday, November 3,
Saturday, November 4,
Saturday, November 4—Part II,
Saturday, November 4—Part III,
Sunday, November 5, and Monday, November 6,
Tuesday, November 7,
Wednesday, November 8, to Friday, November 10,
Sunday, November 12, to Friday, November 17,
Saturday, November 18,
Sunday, November 19,
Sunday, November 19—Part II,
Monday, November 20,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a well written, engaging story that has extremely realistic characters that brings together realism with a world of fantasy. It is the first of a series that leaves one wanting to read the next as soon as possible. It is appropriate for 14+ and mature 12 year olds. The story has an ambiguous ending that may leave some readers guessing but I thought that made the book even more interesting. I have read other reviews and agree that there are several levels of understanding as there are stories within stories. It is an excellent book worthy of discussion groups. I highly recommend it.
This book is very dark and haunting. I read it aloud to my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students and they were not bothered so much by the dark content, but fascinated by it. I did have to read ahead in order to filter out words or phrases that were too mature for them; however I found that my students really enjoyed listening to the story. This story allowed for a lot of journal writes and inference discussions and suspicion.