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When things go bad at home, sisters Eleanor and Mike hide in a secret place under Eleanor’s bed, telling monster stories. Often, it seems those stories and their mother’s house magic are all that keep them safe from both busybodies and their dad’s temper. But when their father breaks a family heirloom, a glass witch ball, a river suddenly appears beneath the bed, and Eleanor and Mike fall into a world where dreams are born, nightmares struggle to break into the real world, and secrets have big consequences. Full of both adventure and heart, Riverland is a story about the bond between two sisters and how they must make their own magic to protect each other and save the ones they love.

342 pages, Hardcover

First published April 9, 2019

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About the author

Fran Wilde

107 books452 followers
Fran Wilde writes award-winning speculative fiction and fantasy. She can also tie a number of sailing knots, set gemstones, and program digital minions. She reads too much and is a friend of the Oxford comma. Her short stories appear in Asimov's, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Uncanny, and Tor.com.

Fran's debut novel, Updraft, was nominated for a 2015 Nebula Award, won the 2015 Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult SFF and the 2016 Compton Crook award for Best First Novel, and was nominated for a 2016 Dragon Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy.

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5 stars
126 (32%)
4 stars
117 (30%)
3 stars
107 (27%)
2 stars
31 (7%)
1 star
7 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 126 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
783 reviews12.4k followers
October 16, 2020
The premise was interesting, and I bet that’s what got this book the Andre Norton Nebula Award (“baby Nebula”, basically). The problem was the execution. And as a result I struggled quite a bit to finish this book, and would have abandoned it if not for my Hugo-Nebula reading project this year.
“At home, every time I lost my temper, things got worse. When Poppa lost his temper, things broke. If you can’t control your temper, Eleanor, you’ll be just like him. Momma had said this so many times.”

This is a middle-grade fantasy (or perhaps magical realism) novel centered on domestic violence and the ways children create to cope with it. Twelve-year-old Eleanor is trying to protect her seven-year-old sister Mike by inventing the stories of magic - including house magic that fixes broken things that follow heated arguments with their emotionally and physically abusive father as long as they painstakingly follow the rules that their abusive parents lay down - the rules aimed at pacifying the abuser and creating a happy image of this very broken family to the outsiders and authority figures. Except that it turns out that magic is indeed real, and there is a river under Eleanor’s bed that takes the girls to Riverland, where dreams are born, and nightmares are trying to escape into the reality as the borders between dreams and reality crack - partially because in a fit of rage the girls’ father breaks a magical object that used to help maintain the integrity of those borders. It’s up to Eleanor and Mike to find the ways to repair the damage and to uphold the ancient magical agreement.
“I’d never thought about magic as an agreement before. It made an uncomfortable kind of sense. Even a small magic that anyone could do needed someone on each side: someone to cast the spell and someone to believe in it.”

Fran Wilde does a decent job showing the insidious ways Eleanor and Mike’s thinking and perception of the world are altered by living in an abusive family. Her father is mostly emotionally abusive to girls, although there are physical elements as well revealed as the story progresses, and is clearly physically abusive to their mother who has put so much into simulating any kind of normalcy where there is none that she has become quite complicit in the situation, although she still tries to protect the girls somewhat, but yet doles out the blame to them for upsetting the abuser. And you start seeing this habitual violence even in the girls’ interactions with each other, which is heartbreaking.
“What could I ask her? Did you ever battle nightmares? Ever try to keep dreams from leaking through to reality?”

Where things fall apart is the fantasy part of the story. The Riverland on the other side of reality, that you can reach through the river under the bed and escape on the beam of the lighthouse, where dreams are born and nightmares grow and crabs and Heron are battling the evils. It’s interesting and dreamlike and yet constructed with the sloppy fuzziness that does not allow for full immersion in the story. The descriptions are vague, perhaps in an attempt to convey the dreamlike quality, making the scenes, especially the action ones, unclear and constantly interrupted by Eleanor’s internal monologue, leading to a very choppy effect. It’s barely sketched out, simplistic, with no room for subtlety or nuance but enough room for muddily unclear storytelling. I consider myself well-versed in fantasy worlds, but even this did not help make the world of the River more clear. Which is too bad, as its haunted surreal atmosphere was shaping up to be promising.

Perhaps it’s this jarring disconnection with the fantasy world part that left me cold and unengaged. Every time I started to feel like I cared and was getting angry at the very difficult situation the girls were in, the story would jump to the fantasy world and the not-caring annoyance would come over me again. There is supposed to be the sense of urgency here, but I honestly felt more engaged in the real-world bits that addressed the preparation for a boring science fair, which says a lot. The real-world parts and the fantasy-world parts felt like they belonged in different books, with little uniting them, with disparate pacing and stakes and very tenuous connections. The story just lacked cohesiveness and therefore ended up just messy.

2.5 stars.
Ugh, it’s my third 2-star read in a row. I need to get out of this book rut...

My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2020: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Fran.
Author 107 books452 followers
April 22, 2019
Hi, I'm Fran, the author of Riverland.

Riverland is a portal fantasy about domestic violence. In the tradition of portal fantasies, the fantastic is an adventure to help right a world that has gone somehow wrong. In another way, it is a story about two sisters gaining control over their own narrative, learning their strengths, and rescuing themselves. I'm hoping you'll get to know Mike and Eleanor, Pendra and Kalliope, Dishrag and the Heron, the dreams and the 'mares. It is the book of my heart, that I swore I'd never write, and then felt compelled to write.

In lieu of more, here are a few things I've written related to the book, and the topic, if you're interested:

Washington Post: "Three Children's Authors on the Importance of Tough Topics in Young People's Literature" https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifest...

Washington Post: "Domestic Violence and Teaching My Daughter to Always Rescue Herself First" https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/p...

SteaMG: "The Magic and Science of Glass" https://steamg.org/blog/2019/3/23/the...

Nerdy Book Club: "On Being Raised By Books And Boats" https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2...

Booksmugglers: "A Map of Inspirations and Influences for Riverland" https://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2019...
Profile Image for Rachel Hartman.
Author 15 books3,838 followers
April 25, 2019
This book is excellent, and it will break your heart so hard. Three tissue-box minimum, you have been warned.

This book is about real abuse, and the fantasy we sometimes need to cope with it; about the truth (which can feel more fantastical than the fantasy, almost, because it's SO HARD) being the most powerful magic of all; about siblings saving each other and finding their way out.

Also: Fran can write circles around any living thing, and her prose alone would make this worth the price of admission. I can still point to all the places I cried.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
Author 70 books999 followers
January 27, 2019
Gorgeous. Dark. Dread-filled. Beautifully written. Full of terrible truths, different kinds of magic, and the real complexities of sisterly love - and a hard-won hope by the end. To be entirely (embarrassingly) honest, I found it painful to read because ever since I had kids of my own, I've gotten massively stressed by reading emotionally intense kids-in-real-peril storylines. There were parts of this book where I couldn't breathe because I was so personally stressed by my fear for these kids, and my stress about their welfare took away from the pleasure I should have taken in the powerful writing and themes. However, I'm pretty sure that before parenting made me such a wimp I would have simply been blown away by how well done it all is.

I know this book will be massively important for kids who face these painful issues in real life and need both this representation on-page AND the hope at the end of the story - that things CAN get better, really and truly, and that your first home doesn't have to be your whole story.

I'm really glad Riverland is coming out in the world, and I'm truly impressed by the writing of it.
Profile Image for Maureen.
908 reviews43 followers
March 9, 2019
This was a hard book to follow. The fantasy part was confusing. The heart of the story was in the love that sisters Eleanor and Mike shared for each other. There is violence among the parents, but the girls find safety for themselves. They both have good friends and there are adults along the way they learn to trust.
Profile Image for Alan.
1,121 reviews112 followers
February 21, 2021
Eleanor and Mike Prine are sisters who live in the oldest house in Riverland, the riverside development—estuarial, even, as it's very close to the sea—for which their father Simon is very close to closing a major land deal.

Riverland is much more than that, though, as the Prine sisters soon discover when the river starts seeping from their cozy nest underneath Eleanor's bed...


"You promised," Momma whispered to me. "But that's never enough."

Although they're otherwise very different books, Fran Wilde's novel Riverland was almost as difficult for me to get through as the last book I read, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer. Wilde's protagonist Eleanor and her sister Mike have a Poppa who, as my own father did, sometimes gets too free with his hands. Things get broken around Simon Prine (to echo Eleanor's consistent use of the passive voice—although you and I both know what that really means is "he breaks our things when he gets mad"), and my own family's "house magic" was not nearly as effective at replacing them as Eleanor's.

Even at that, though, I think I had a better home life than Eleanor and Mike and their mother Moira do. My father, at least, never called his children "garbage."

To put it bluntly: Riverland is, especially to begin with, altogether too realistic. Wilde's novel teeters, for what I thought was a very long time (although really it's for only a couple of chapters), just on the edge of becoming the fantasy it eventually dives into wholeheartedly.

Fran Wilde's novel is definitely pitched to a Young Adult level, too—and not just judging by the age of its protagonists (which isn't always a guarantee of YA status, of course!). Its vocabulary and tone are also rather juvenile:
Pendra stuck her tongue out at me, then flipped her retainer in her mouth the way she did sometimes when she was thinking. I envied the trick, even if it was a little gross.
This is by design, I'm sure, since we're being told the story from Eleanor's viewpoint.

This is one of the strengths of Fran Wilde's writing, by the way; I can't think of any places in Riverland where Eleanor's voice sounded too adult for her years.


Riverland's inventive realm (I especially liked Dishrag, the equine ferry operator and aspiring nightmare) invites comparison with China Miéville's amazing Un Lun Dun—although Wilde's novel was not nearly as fun for me. It struck just a little too close to the bone.

Really, though, is that such a bad thing?
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
July 6, 2020
This was cute. 12 year old me would probably have loved it--it's like the "12 year old girl's story checklist": best friends, ponies, dreams, and magic. A couple decades later, I think it was strong but not perfect.


Things to love:

-The sisters. I love books with caring, close sibling relationships and this one melted right into my heart.

-The world. I really, really loved how Wilde envisioned the dream world. A little ethereal, a little environmental PSA, very cute...it was just delightful.

-Discussing survivorship. I had some problems with this, but overall, as a way of explaining when things are bad to kids, I think this took a measured, understandable approach.

-The end. Again, a couple problems for me, but what I loved is that it came to rest without a happy ever ending. I respect that the author trusted the kids she's trying to reach to understand that sometimes good enough for now is good enough, and that's all we can really do. Hard to get right, without judgment, pathos, or cliche, and I think the author walked that line.

Things I didn't love:

It's really just one thing that wove its way into many parts; I don't think the author did a good job writing about an abuser. The insidiousness of abuse from a parent is how hard it is as a survivor to hang onto the narrative that the abuser is the bad one. I don't think the author really captured anything beyond an anger management issue with the abuser, which can definitely be an aspect of it, but I think we needed to go beyond that if we're going to teach kids about when to get help from another grown up. I think this needed more nuance not to seem like a bad trope, and to really capture how kids are actually dealing with this problem in our world right now.

I thought it was overall a nice story with good writing, lots of ideas that should appeal to the tween set, and a good look at the struggles of growing up feeling unsupported, angry, and traumatized.
Profile Image for David H..
2,066 reviews19 followers
May 26, 2019
I hardly know where to begin with this book. On the face of it, it's just a portal fantasy where Eleanor and her little sister find their way into a land of dreams. The narrator comes from an abusive house (mostly emotional), and the author does an incredible job in making me believe not only Eleanor's feelings but also her own self-delusions when it comes to the state of her own family. Now I just want to go home and hug my kid. Truth can be hard to commit to. I'm glad Eleanor did.
Profile Image for Marzie.
1,133 reviews92 followers
April 9, 2019
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

My reaction to this book is deeply personal. From its opening passages, which I found excruciatingly familiar, I felt a kinship with the rituals of safety- the house rules, and the magic that these rules invoke for making a fragile home "peaceful." Anyone who knows what it is like to not be able to explain to a friend why they can't come to your house, especially without advance planning. Anyone who has lived with all the rules about what you can say and not say, who you talk to and what you never reveal, will find this book resonates with them. It paints a haunting picture of children's perceptions of domestic abuse.

Riverland is about El and Mike, two sisters who come from an unhappy family. We see the carefully circumscribed world the sisters live in, with all its rules centered on palliating an aggressive Poppa, and their Momma's magic, which holds the home and family together in ways that children will grow to question over the course of the book. But that's only part of this story. Their house, their family, and soon, their magic, is broken, culminating in a mysterious river leaking under El's bed. Since under the bed is a favorite hiding place (again, familiar) it's only natural that when Mike falls in, El dives in after her, taking care of her baby sister, just as she always has done. What they find is another secret world, another one in which agreements and rules were made without their knowledge or understanding. The magic of that world is intimately linked to the house magic of their own world. The alternate world is filled with 'mares (nightmares) and terrifying figures. But is it as bad as the world that El and Mike come home to every day after school? What does it mean when you feel safer in an alt-world than in your own home? The fantasy elements of the story, which in some ways feel more like elements of magical realism (in the tradition of Allende, for example), present the girls with the means to transform their situation.

This is an emotionally complex book that would be the perfect summer reading assignment for middle-grade students. It's a novel about healing hearts, navigating difficult family circumstances, about learning to speak out, upholding agreements, and doing what is right.
Profile Image for Dianthaa.
238 reviews25 followers
October 8, 2020
Check out this review and others on my blog www.dianthaa.com

A middle-grade portal fantasy about two sisters from an abusive family. I didn’t know they made kids’ books this emotional. Great book, and very heartbreaking at times. At the surface it’s a portal fantasy with a whole new world, but the main theme of the book is domestic violence and emotional abuse. I don’t read a lot of middle-grade, so I really didn’t know they made them so emotional.

The other books in this post were fun and pretty easy to read, this one was not. There’s this constant tension between what I could read between the lines as an adult, about the wrongness of the family relationship, and how the two kids were interpreting it. There was a lot of me going “oh no no no honey that’s not normal”. But this contrast made it interesting because very long into the book I was wondering whether this story would actually have magic, or was it just magical thinking. It was a really unexpected read, but I loved it and I think it’ll stick with me.

Aside from the troubled home lives of the two sisters, the magical part of the story, the world through the portal was really cool too, and I loved how it tied it to the real world and their history. One of the characters they meet there is super cute.
Profile Image for Kara.
504 reviews11 followers
August 25, 2019
A middle grade book that will break your heart and put it back together again. Wilde takes on the difficult subject of domestic abuse — mostly emotional, with a bit of physical abuse as well — with grace and sensitivity, wrapping it up in a portal fantasy concept. My heart broke for Eleanor and her little sister Mike as I watched them internalize the guilt and shame and rationalize away their father's behavior. Their behavior is very accurate for that age range, and I have no doubt that this book will (sadly) resonate with many readers in the target audience. Wilde's prose is just lovely, and her magical world of Riverland is captivating. Highly recommended for readers of all ages, middle grade or not.
Profile Image for Kate.
317 reviews4 followers
April 3, 2019
A touching story about two sisters growing up in a house where "house magic" always fixes the things that get broken in their father's rages... until it doesn't, and the girls must find their own powers. I especially liked their growing relationship with their grandmother, and the hopeful but realistic ending. A good book for readers who like stories where reality and fantasy sit side by side.
Profile Image for Chrystopher’s Archive.
530 reviews35 followers
December 7, 2019
Like Alice in Wonderland but with actual emotional stakes.

This book tackles a lot of heavy topics, and the sense of dread that lives in the girls' house is palpable through Wilde's evocative writing. Interwoven through this and Eleanor's difficulty in navigating the relationships both within her family and without, is the magic.

I like how Wilde uses a technique where she never gives you anything at face value for free; you end up working for it, and you end up thinking about the story even when you're not reading it. Ultimately, this will bring up a lot of questions, and while none of them are left hanging, the answers won't always be clear cut. This will definitely be a frustration for some readers, but I really appreciate how it makes the story more interactive and interpretive than it would be if the answers were easier.

I think the middle grade audience the book was intended for will really appreciate this nuance as well, along with the other messages in the story.
Profile Image for A.C. Wise.
Author 150 books326 followers
December 13, 2019
Riverland begins with sisters Mike and Eleanor hiding under Eleanor’s bed, telling stories. Their stories are a form of escape from a house where things break, where there are raised hands and raised voices, and telling anyone about family business and “bringing trouble” is the worst offense imaginable. Their stories are also a wish, and a form of magic. They are a way of understanding the world; in stories, they can safely say “one day, our real parents will come for us” and never have to directly address the horrible situation they’re in and are afraid to speak of out loud.

Mike and Eleanor occupy a liminal space. They yearn for magic to be real, and they are almost young enough to believe it. Yet they are both older than their years, and beneath their yearning, there is a sense of hopelessness. Eleanor especially is old enough to feel a burden and unfairness to her life that seems to preclude the possibility of magic. She’s trying to protect Mike, but has no real resources to do so; she’s expected be quiet and behave and never get angry, even when she’s surrounded by anger every day; and she’s asked to lie to protect her family’s secrets, even though those secret put her in danger. She feels trapped, powerless, and the reader feels those things right along with her.

Then the world of her stories manifests as real, and she and Mike tumble from the space under her bed into a river that can’t possibly exist. They meet a pony made of dishrags, and a heron made of sea glass and driftwood. They’re asked to honor a compact their family made before they were ever born and save a world they only just discovered existed. Eleanor and Mike learn that even magical worlds come with unfair expectations and burdens that they will be asked to carry, despite their young age. There is danger in the river, and the consequences they face there threaten to spill over into the real world as well.

Riverland is beautifully-written. It is painful, and it is also necessary. Ultimately, it is a story about sisters learning to save themselves and each other. Even though they’re young, even though they shouldn’t have to do it, even though it’s impossible as a reader to stop hoping that someone will swoop in and intervene – a neighbor, a teacher, another family member, even a heron made of driftwood – they are on their own. Riverland gives us the hard truth that sometimes there isn’t anyone else. Sometimes you have to do the scary and terrible thing on your own, even though it hurts and you’re afraid.

One of the most beautiful lessons Eleanor learns over the course of her journey is that there are good kinds of mad, and bad kinds of mad. The bad kind makes you lash out at other people. The good kind leads you to stand up against what is unfair, to speak out even when you’ve been told to keep quiet. It is an important lesson for girls especially, who are too often conditioned by society not to make a fuss, to go along and keep everyone happy. They are taught that their own pain and discomfort is secondary, and the worst thing they can do is make someone else upset, even if staying silent means putting themselves in danger. It isn’t only an important lesson for girls however, it’s an important lesson for everyone. Abusers thrive on making people feel powerless, isolated, and as though speaking up will only bring more pain. The lesson applies to adults on the outside of a bad situation as well. It’s easy to see something wrong and assume someone else will take care of it. It’s easy to feel it isn’t our place to fix it, or that the problem will go away on its own. It’s easy to feel like there’s nothing we can do to help, so why bother to try? It’s easy to convince ourselves we’re imagining things, and maybe there isn’t anything wrong at all. That’s the problem. It’s easy. And so bad things are allowed to continue, because it’s easier to look the other way and pretend not to see them happening.But as Eleanor learns, doing the right thing is scary, and hard.

Riverland is a portal fantasy about travel to another world, but it is very much about this world as well. It is about fighting back and standing up, and not staying silent. It is about getting angry at unfairness, and turning that anger into fuel to save yourself and those around you. It is necessary, and it is beautiful.
Profile Image for Tsana Dolichva.
Author 4 books64 followers
August 7, 2020
Riverland by Fran Wilde is a portal fantasy book for children (aka middle grade). I first encountered it during a reading by the author at Dublin WorldCon last year. This year, I finally got around to picking up Riverland after it was shortlisted for the not-a-Hugo Lodestar Award and hence was included in the Hugo voter's packet.

Riverland is not exactly an easy and relaxing read. It follows twelve-year-old Eleanor and her younger sister Mike, as they deal with an abusive family situation and periodically fall into a fantastical fantasy world made of the river and dreams. The abusive father is the hard part to read, of course, but there is not very much physical violence on the page. Wilde captures the fear, confusion and instability of an emotionally abusive household excellently. I absolutely felt Eleanor's stress as she strived to keep everything just right to avoid bad things happening, and I felt the way she was always kept off-balance by the house rules changing without warning.

The fantastical river world under her bed was where dreams come from and was also caught in a battle to maintain the delicate balance between dreams and nightmares. As well as Eleanor's responsibilities at home — to always do the right thing, to look after her sister and keep her parents happy — she finds herself tasked with fixing the leaks in Riverland; yet another burden. We watch Eleanor try to juggle more balls than a twelve-year-old should ever be expected to, and Wilde transfers some of her fear and tension to the reader.

So as I said, it wasn't a fun, light read, but it was interesting. I liked the fantasy world and I liked the fact that it was somewhere the girls kept revisiting rather than a place they went to and stayed in to have adventures, à la Narnia. And for all that I've emphasised the difficult parts of the book, there were also plenty of hopeful moments, though I don't want to spoil them. The ending was also a good one (though, again, not spoiling).

I highly recommend Riverland to anyone looking for a crunchy children's fantasy book I would probably hand it to slightly older children, because it does deal with some heavy issues. But I expect younger children in similar situation may benefit seeing themselves in the narrative.

4.5 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
24 reviews4 followers
March 9, 2019
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book. This book deals with a difficult subject with grace and without sugar coating the reality of the struggle and challenges the main character faces. The ending pulled at my heart so much that I started reading from beginning again as I too wasn't ready to leave the secret world that Wilde had carefully crafted.
Profile Image for Jeremy Brett.
56 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2019
Riverland is a glorious addition to the fantasy ouevre of Fran Wilde, who has already given the world works of fiction -both long and short - that are singular in their beauty and depth. Her latest book, the YA novel "Riverland", is beautifully written, emotional, and fierce in its portrayal of sisterly love as a source of strength and renewal. Wilde has given her whole heart to this story, and it shows in so many ways - in the psychological strategies of children to survive and cope in an abusive household, in the determination to do right and to rise above fear, in the struggles of light against the dark.

Glass features prominently in Wilde's novel, which is all too fitting. Glass is a transitional substance, sometimes solid, sometimes liquid - it can be still or it can flow. In the same way, Wilde moves her characters between shifting worlds and those characters themselves are never constant. They change, they grow, they flow, they strengthen, and sometimes, they break. "Riverland" is well-recommended, as is all of Wilde's work.
Profile Image for Raq.
47 reviews1 follower
May 14, 2019
I started reading this book right when it arrived and lost track of time and was almost late for an event. I finished it the next day...but then I had to sit with it for a bit before reviewing it.

It's intense and heartrendingly beautiful. The title and cover are not misleading - the overall impression of the book is water and wetness; in many symbologies water represents emotions, and it almost always represents life. That's true in Riverland - the family at the heart of it represses both emotions and the ability to live to the point where they, and the water, can't be held back anymore.

But water can also be destructive and deadly, and it plays that role here as well.

It's a beautiful metaphor for a teenage girl (and this is a coming-of-age story) learning to find and use the balance between power and control, emotion and direction, protection and action. She moves from a child's understanding of magic, to a wise adult's understanding of what magic is, and what is magic.

It's also a difficult story to read, at least for me. I grew up with a parent who had a mental illness, and who took it out on the family - sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. The first couple chapters of Riverland took me right back to my own pre-teen and early teens, of having to be on complete and total alert and lockdown, at home and away. It's a true and honest and brutal representation of something that kids experience and deal with, but which isn't in enough stories for kids. My teenage self could have used this book.
93 reviews
July 22, 2020
Sisters Eleanor and Mike live in a magic house. That sounds good but there are rules and they must be obeyed or bad things happen. And bad things are happening. The girls, hiding from an abusive father under one bed, accidentally slip between worlds to Riverland, a dream world, where things don't work as they do here. Riverland has a large central river which is leaking into the real world, along with nightmares (actual horses). Their family is charged with keeping the boundary safe between the worlds but every time the girls break a rule, more leaks open up. They take on the family challenge of shoring up the boundaries but how? And how are they to escape the trap of staying a little too long in the dream world.

This book tells a tale that too many kids face, the conflict between very strict household rules and the reality of being a kid. Inadvertent rule breaking may lead to consequences in adult behavior that they observe but do not understand. They may internalize their own behavior as causative, bad, hopeless because of what they're told by adults. And how free are they to share their issues with others, when the very sharing is breaking more rules which will cause more problems? High marks for speaking right into the souls of kids. One star held back for an arbitrarily successful ending that felt somewhat contrived, if hopeful. Definitely worth reading. This book was a contender for the Lodestar Award (given out with the Hugo Awards but not a Hugo, itself).
Profile Image for Laurie.
Author 7 books93 followers
January 1, 2019
A beautiful book. Creative, compassionate, heartbreaking, and eventually heart-healing. This is a vivid fantasy novel that will appeal not only to fans of magic but also to readers like me, who love character-driven realistic novels most, because the rich relationships between sisters Eleanor and Mike and their friends and family members are at the heart of the book. It’s an especially empowering read for anyone who’s ever feared they have something ugly or shameful deep inside themselves (which I think most of us have, to some extent, whether or not we have lived with a family member like Eleanor’s father). I worried and rooted for Eleanor throughout her quest. I love what she realizes by the end...and I especially love that young readers who need a story like this one might have a similar kind of realization alongside her.
Profile Image for Lori Holuta.
Author 16 books51 followers
October 4, 2020
I went into the story knowing in advance that aspects of our protagonist's home life might be difficult to read. Fran Wilde has managed to sensitively show us what it's like to be children living in an abusive home. Eleanor and her little sister 'Mike', aren't brave little Pollyannas - these kids have been badly damaged, but they aren't yet completely broken. Their challenges are immense and seemingly impossible. But Eleanor has a strength that's somehow grown from her conviction that she's worthless, and her unwavering love for her sister. She even tries her best for the parents that have utterly failed her. And as if this isn't enough for a small girl to handle, now another world desperately needs her help. A compelling read. And yes, this *is* a children's book, for those who need to connect with these possibly-familiar heroes.
8 reviews6 followers
October 19, 2018
I was lucky enough to be able to read an advanced copy of Riverland. It was amazing. I am a fan of Fran Wilde's writing, and I think this is her best work yet. The characters and story are very compelling. It was one of those books that I read and read until it was done and then I was sorry I had read it so fast as I didn't want it to be over. While this book is "middle grades," I found it to have enough brilliance and emotional content that adults will enjoy it, too. It deals with hard things, but doesn't feel like a book "about" hard things, if that makes sense. Just read it. You'll be glad you did.
Profile Image for Fafa's Book Corner.
513 reviews306 followers
January 30, 2019
Mini review:

Trigger warning: Mention of bad temper regarding the MCs father. Up till the point I read.


I received this E-ARC via Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I was really looking forward to reading this book! Unfortunately I didn’t like it.

To put it simply I started losing interest while reading. I couldn’t wrap my head around the beginning and while I wanted to read more, I couldn’t bring myself to.

I still recommend.

Profile Image for Kieran Delaney.
143 reviews6 followers
July 14, 2021
I really enjoyed this - more for the real world elements than the fantastical elements, but this is a very powerful examination of children in an abusive household. Strong elements of Pans Labyrinth (in a good way).
Profile Image for Emily W.
245 reviews8 followers
June 13, 2020
Heads up for domestic violence but: this is one of the best books I've ever read. It cracked my heart. Or, rather, shone a light through the cracks already there.
Profile Image for Cheyenne.
403 reviews9 followers
September 15, 2021
This is a middle grade portal fantasy novel, although it has the interesting distinction of spending a large percentage of the story in the real world and only occasionally going through the portal to the fantasy world. The fantasy world also created more stress in the character's lives than it did fun. This sets Riverland apart from the classic portal fantasies such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which the children spend almost the entire book in Narnia and it seems like a travesty that they would ever be expected to return to the real world. That said, the real world of Riverland isn't particularly pleasant, either, and events in one world can have far-reaching effects in the other.

In general, I thought this was a dark yet helpful middle grade book, and unfortunately, I think it could really resonate with a lot of children out there. I am not part of the target audience, yet I will say that I enjoyed it a good bit. I like when kids' books don't shy away from difficult topics or talk down to the reader about them, and this book handled that well.

One of the things that I found a bit peculiar about this book is that I actually found myself significantly more interested in what was happening in the real world than in the fantasy world. This is generally pretty unlike me, and I think it's because the fantasy world lacked the charm and sense of wonder that other fantasy worlds tend to have. The idea of a world full of creatures made of trash and other mundane items was very interesting to me, but as previously mentioned, the protagonists' experiences in this world were all very negative. They dreaded going there, so it was hard for me as the reader to look forward to it. I think if we had spent more time in the fantasy world and had gotten to see some beauty and more positive encounters and adventures, I would have been more attached to the world and felt more positively toward it, but it also would have been a completely different book and maybe it wouldn't have served the same purpose.

I also felt that, to an extent, the magical enemy was dealt with too easily at the end, though this may have been because she was dealt with in a way that hadn't really been previously explained. This made it feel like it happened on the writer's whim and not as something particularly well thought-out on the protagonist's part.
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