Reading Level: Young Adult
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: eGalley from NetGalley.com
Rating: 4/5 stars
I got a copy of this book to review through the NetGalley. I had really enjoyed Starmer’s The Only Ones when I reviewed it last year, so I was excited to read his next book. This was an interesting read that is intriguing and full of mystery, but also a bit ambiguous.
12 year old Alistair Cleary has a rather odd neighbor, a girl named Fiona Loomis. Fiona Loomis shows up at Alistair’s door with a strange request, she wants Alistair to write her biography. Puzzled, yet curious, Alistair agrees and Fiona tells Alistair a fascinating story. Fiona thinks she has been living off and on in a land called Aquavania. Fiona’s friends from Aquavania have been disappearing off and on, rumor is that their souls have been stolen by an evil being known only as The Riverman. As Alistair gets to know Fiona better he starts to wonder if Fiona’s story is all true or if it is the imaginings of a disturbed girl who is desperate for help.
This is advertised as middle grade, I think it might be better for kids a little older than that. The story is told on multiple levels and I think younger readers might miss that or be confused by it.
Alistair is your run of the mill 12 year old boy, he doesn’t have a ton of friends aside from his video-game obsessed best friend Charlie. When Fiona shows up, he just thinks she is interesting and pretty and decides he doesn’t really have a reason not to help her record her biography. Alistair and Fiona used to be friends when they were younger and have grown apart as they’ve gotten older.
Fiona is hard to pin down, she thinks she’s lived years of her life in an imaginary land called Aqauvania where whatever you can imagine becomes real. She’s built a world for herself there and crossed into the worlds of other kids and made friends there. Then her friends in Aquavania start disappearing. Rumor is something called the Riverman is loose in Aquavania and he is devouring these childrens’ souls.
What really drives the story is the whole question of whether or not Aquavania is real. Is Fiona telling the truth? At first Alistair thinks not, he thinks all these stories are Fiona’s way of telling about a deeper darker secret of abuse and possibly murder in her family. As the story continues though he is unsure. The reader is left to unravel this mystery and try to gleans bits and pieces of information to determine what is real and what is not.
This is an incredibly engaging read and very hard to put down. Fiona is fascinating and seeing her through Alistair’s eyes is very intriguing. Alistair isn’t anything special except that he has the capacity to believe that Aquavania just might be real. This is a truly unique book and I really enjoyed it.
However, the ending left me feeling a bit cold. It is a very ambiguous ending and nothing is really revealed or resolved. I actually reread the ending a few times trying to tease out some explanation or conclusion…but just couldn’t. I guess this could be good or bad depending on how you feel about ambiguous endings. I personally like my stories a bit more wrapped up. That being said this is the type of book you could probably read two or three times and draw different conclusions about what is really happening throughout. So this is a wonderful book for re-reading and discussing with others.
I would actually like to re-read it at some point and see if I can make a bit more sense of the ending on my second time through. Unfortunately I have a ton of other books to read, so I doubt I will get the opportunity to do that.
Overall this was an interesting read. I enjoyed the story, I thought it was very engaging and creative…I loved the idea of Fiona’s Aquavania and loved watching her try to convince Alistair of its reality. I loved how Alistair was torn between believing Fiona outright and thinking that her story was a parallel for dark secrets in her current life. I, however, was left feeling a bit disappointed by the very ambiguous ending. I also think that this book may be a bit too advanced for middle grade readers, there are some dark undertones here and some parallel world things that I had trouble keeping track of. This was another interesting book by Starmer and I am eager to see what he comes up with next.