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In the Heart of the Canyon

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Over the course of thirteen long days, twelve assorted passengers, three rafting guides and one stray dog will navigate the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon together. From their early-morning rise on the shore of the river to the adrenaline rush of paddling through Lava Falls, they will soon come to know each other more intimately than they could have expected. Tempers will flare and decisions will be second-guessed . . . and ultimately all of them, from an unhappy teenager to an aging river guide, will realize that sometimes the most daunting adventures have nothing to do with white-water rapids, and everything to do with reconfiguring the rocky canyons of the heart.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Elisabeth Hyde

8 books138 followers
Elisabeth Hyde is the author, most recently, of GO ASK FANNIE, winner of the 2019 Colorado Book Award in General Fiction. She has also written five other critically acclaimed novels, including IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON, a NY Times Editor’s Choice and a People Magazine Great Read. Her fourth novel, THE ABORTIONIST'S DAUGHTER, became a best seller in Great Britain after being selected as a Summer Read by The Richard and Judy Show (Britain’s Oprah, at the time). Trained as a lawyer, she tried cases for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., for several years, a day-job that still gives her stomachaches just to think about it. Realizing that she preferred written conflict over face-to-face argument, she eventually left the law to write fiction, and never looked back. She lives in Boulder with her husband and the best dog in the whole world.

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5 stars
323 (17%)
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875 (46%)
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546 (29%)
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101 (5%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 396 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,727 reviews6,662 followers
April 10, 2015
Group dynamics always fascinate me. I remember when I was a teenager, my friends and I would go to the airport just to people watch. It's one of the best places for it! Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's exciting, but it's always fun learning a bit about human behavior.

Elisabeth Hyde definitely gives us some people watching to do in In the Heart of the Canyon. The setting is a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, and the "people watching" is done through the perspectives of multiple characters, six to be exact, who are each sharing their thoughts about each other as well as their rafting experience in general. The individuals and families who have embarked on this trip all come from a variety backgrounds and they all have their own reasons for being there. Sometimes, the content was fairly humdrum and sometimes it was OMG! What??? But overall, I liked it and found it to be a worthwhile reading experience.

One thing I took away from reading In the Heart of the Canyon was a lesson about judging others based on appearances and the life you think they have lead. People always have a way of surprising you in life and I love that. Remember, “There's no such thing as a stranger, just people we haven't met.” Maybe you will take something else away from your reading experience. Read it and find out!

Note: I love learning about an author's inspiration for the stories they write. If you're the same, click HERE to read an interview with the author. (Scroll down to frequently asked questions.)

My favorite quote:
“...in his heart, he'd like to think that beneath the surface of every pain in the ass was a well intentioned individual who could probably shed light on some topic that he'd always been wondering about.”

Here are a few rafting gifs I had to include in this review just for the hell of it...

Profile Image for Cait S.
908 reviews70 followers
February 5, 2015
I would be lying if I didn't tell say up front that In The Heart of the Canyon worried me going in. Here we have a book that's not overly long but somehow it is meant to include a massive scope. Two weeks in the Grand Canyon. Fifteen different characters. There's so much that could have gone wrong here that I opened the first chapter already believing I might not even finish the book.

I was wrong.

In every place that the writing could have gotten bogged down in flowering prose, Elisabeth Hyde simply but powerful describes the beauty of the Canyon so that I, someone who has never seen it before, could picture it perfectly in my mind. From the cliffs to the water, even the different kinds of heat, the world was built in detail from the ground up. With so much time spent in such a large and constantly changing environment, this is no small accomplishment and one I wish I saw more of in other books.

With fifteen characters to get to know and a handful of point of views to read, it seems an intimidating story. How could you possibly learn enough about them all to tell them apart, let alone actually care about them? But somehow, again, the author manages with her straightforward yet subtle way of telling everyone's story. There is character growth across the board, some of which left me feeling incredibly proud of these people who only exist within these pages. From a twelve year old boy taking his first trip down the river, to an elderly couple taking their last, every point of view gives a different view of the Canyon and the people they experienced it with. Calling it memorable is an understatement.

There is something for everyone within this book. Action, adventure, humor, family drama, romance, nature... It's a journey all on it's own.
Profile Image for AdiTurbo.
704 reviews78 followers
March 15, 2017
Elisabeth Hyde is one of those natural storytellers, who know how to tell a story simply and compellingly, without interrupting and ruining it with too many embellishments and literary tricks. This one is about a group of strangers coming together for a trip down the Colorado river. As you can expect, they gradually come to know each other better, and the dynamics between them are developing and changing all the time. There are surprises (which I really wasn't too surprised about) and dramatic moments, but that's not what this book is about. It is about how people are multi-dimensional, paradoxical at times, changing every moment, discovering new talents and powers in themselves that they never knew they had. No one is perfect here, everyone is complex, but that's what makes this story so engrossing, just like life, of course. No black and white here, it's too real for that.
Profile Image for Julia.
40 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2009
I read this in one day--almost in one sitting--so yeah, I'm giving it five stars.

Would I love it as much if I didn't grown up in Arizona and later take a week-long rafting trip down the Grand Canyon? Maybe not. But anyone can appreciate this novel's mix of soapy page-turning and contemplative literary qualities. Not many books can truly capture what it's like to have a transformative experience in the great outdoors (particularly in one of the most beautiful places in the world), and Hyde does an excellent job of describing the wonder without getting too cheesy.

On the downside, I guessed the book's biggest plot twist about forty pages in, and if you've ever read an issue of Seventeen Magazine, circa 1998, you probably will, too.

Finally, for both better and worse, this book has a lot in common with Carolyn Parkhurst's Lost and Found (another book that I read in one day--the day before I took that rafting trip, actually). Both the plot and the characters will feel very familiar (particularly the mother/daughter pair and the Mormon couple), but hey: I really enjoyed Lost and Found. There are worse things to emulate.
Profile Image for Amandajane.
86 reviews2 followers
February 2, 2012
Not amazing literature by any means, but a easy, fun read. Though this particular trip down the Colorado had some (a lot) of mishaps, it's still a trip on my bucket list! The character study was interesting, and I definitely know people that fit most of these roles.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
940 reviews29 followers
February 13, 2018
I loved this book-- the style of writing and the characters. It made me want to go white water rafting.(maybe not the camping part) After it ended it me wonder what the characters were up to and what happened once the trip was finished. You got to know each of the characters and their reasons for going on the trip.
Profile Image for Erik.
863 reviews4 followers
November 1, 2018
Extremely satisfying read. Yes, there were a lot of characters to keep straight, but this adventure story of a whitewater raft trip fleshed out each of the separate characters nicely. Also, the story was so interesting that I was always looking forward to next time that I could carve out a few more minutes so I could read more!
Profile Image for E.
1,156 reviews3 followers
April 8, 2020
3.5* I’ve been fantasizing for years about a raft trip down the Grand Canyon, and it was fun to see the different sections and rapids described along the way in this book. My book club read this book back-to-back with Peter Heller’s The River, so it was impossible not to compare the two books about two very different river adventure trips. I found Heller’s book to be a deeper, more thoughtful read, much darker in tone, and also better at capturing the natural world that was integral to the story—both nature’s beauty and its threat. I felt like the Grand Canyon itself was not depicted as frequently or as fulsomely as I would have liked in Heart. But I really enjoyed the individual characters in this book, as well as the ways in which different relationships developed over the course of the trip.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,148 reviews
December 5, 2019

This was such a fun book with good storytelling. 12 adventure seekers from different backgrounds with 3 guides make their way rafting through the Grand Canyon. Something I have always wanted to do, the book offered up all their personalities and their struggles blending to work together to make this next 13 days a trip to remember forever. Some laugh out loud moments as well as information about rafting and the Colorado through the Canyon. Now I want to go more than ever!
Profile Image for Jilli.
42 reviews
July 5, 2020
I love the fictional group dynamics at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There was plenty of action with this rag-tag team. I enjoyed the dog within the storyline. However Hyde blew it with Amy's character. This would have been a perfect opportunity to be inclusive with plus-sized characters in nature. I feel like every opportunity possible Hyde built upon stereotypes of the "fat" character. Even with the twist at the end, this could have been the bridge between adventure and body positive!
Profile Image for Debbi.
996 reviews
December 15, 2019
Chronicles a 13 day rafting trip down the Colorado river for 12 people and 3 guides. I want to do this! I could never be a guide though, especially the Lead Guide. He has to be a glorified babysitter among a hundred other things. The trip affects each character though and that is interesting to see. Learning more about the canyon is always a plus.
Profile Image for L.
403 reviews1 follower
January 5, 2020
3.5 stars. After chatting with a library patron about “The River” by Peter Heller, I wanted to read an adventure story. This is listed as a readalike for “The River.” It’s good, not the most literary of books, but I don’t think you can read this without wanting to take a rafting trip down the Colorado River by the end.
Profile Image for Ali.
284 reviews4 followers
July 6, 2017
I love a good character study. This is not my usual genre as it is adult contemporary, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the setting and getting to know the characters and seeing them evolve.
Profile Image for Annabelle.
43 reviews6 followers
June 2, 2018
Surprisingly this book, telling a story about sth that is totally foreign to me, held my interest from beginning to end more than any other books.
Fifteen strangers went on a 2-week rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. Can’t say there were any life/ death incidents throughout, but the mere group dynamics made the story more gripping than many so-called thrillers.
Much to the writer’s credit I could easily tell all those characters apart.
Knew absolutely nothing about rafting before. Literally had to look up the difference between rowing and paddling. Ended up watching tons of YouTube videos about rafting on the Colorado River at 1am.
It’s a great book. Fun and well written. Wish more people know about it.
37 reviews
December 7, 2022
Loved the descriptions of the river, the canyon walls and colors and the unending heat as well as the turbulent trips down the river.
Found some of the characters and their relationships either too eccentric or too predictable.
An easy read though.
Profile Image for  Olivermagnus.
1,865 reviews43 followers
November 3, 2020
I had absolutely no expectations when I picked up In the Heart of the Canyon. I needed a book set in the Grand Canyon and I thought this was going to be a nonfiction accounting of a river rafting trip.

Readers get to know the characters through the perspective of six rafters who are each sharing their thoughts about each other as well as their rafting experience. The individuals and families on this trip all come from a variety backgrounds and they all have their own reasons for being there.

There are twelve passengers and their three guides, but only a few have a POV that is included. There is a list of characters at the beginning of the book. I was worried I might have problems remembering who everyone was but it turned out I only needed to refer to it a couple of times.

Head guide, JT Maroney, is on his 125th trip down the river and is hoping it will be an easy one. He recounts his life and wonders when he will make his final trip as he continues to take care of his travelers as best he can in an unpredictable an environment. Another one of the main characters is high school student, Amy, who is very obese and has self-esteem issues which come across strongly in diary entries that are part of the story.

I really enjoyed the individual characters in this book, as well as the ways in which different relationships developed over the course of the trip. The story of the rafting trip with a group of strangers who had very different personalities ended up being interesting, intense, and heart warming.

I've never been on a rafting trip but I've been to the Grand Canyon many times and the beautiful descriptions of the Canyon did bring it to life for me.
Profile Image for Robyn.
37 reviews
March 8, 2018
Review title: The River Trip From Hell.

Actually, it was a good premise, and anyone who hasn't been a professional river guide on the Grand will probably like it. For me (former river guide) I took exception to her many mistakes--no trip leader would ever act like JT, who struck me as rather spineless and weak at times; guests (passengers) sleep on cots, not on the sand on mats, guides (all) would be aware of allergies to nuts, and the female guide's behavior-argumentative and witnessed by passengers- would have gotten her fired or at least written up, etc, etc, trip leaders wouldn't jump off hundred foot cliffs nor let a child do it, and the ending felt like a deux ex machina gesture rather than avoiding what could have been a really cool gesture--to let the passenger-characters learn something about themselves, all of them.

Although author says she has gone on professional river trips, it was clear she didn't have quite the right handle on seeing a professional trip through a river guide's eyes. It read like a mismanaged, dysfunctional private Grand Canyon trip--which I've also experienced.

I don't know. It was easy to read but pretty shallow. The premise with the disappearing-reappearing stray dog was distracting and quite frankly made me more fearful about his fate than I ever cared about the actual human characters. I finally, after 3/4 way through, began skimming only to find out what happened to the dog.
6 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2012
I loved this book! The Grand Canyon and the Colorado River have fascinated me for a long time, and I have been given an opportunity to go on a raft trip there this summer. So the book was of special interest to me. The author, Elisabeth Hyde, writes with compelling simplicity, and her characters cover a wide range of personalities and life-styles, which she describes with insight. The book is definitely an adventure tale with a dash of inspiration about how people overcome their fears and conquer obstacles they never thought they could. But it's never heavy or preachy, just an exciting and very interesting page-turner.

Unfortunately for me, the tale reinforced my reservations about taking on the challenges of such a trip, which requires both strength of heart AND strength of body. I don't think I'd be up to its physical rigors or the possible helicopter evacuation in case of accident. But I was able to enjoy the excursion anyway by reading the book. If you are at all interested in one of America's national treasures or just the physical challenge of a grand adventure, I urge you to read this book.
Profile Image for Tattered Cover Book Store.
720 reviews2,110 followers
August 2, 2009
Linda says:

For those of us who can't afford a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, or perhaps might have more qualms than a desire to do so, along comes "In the Heart of the Canyon" by Elisabeth Hyde. For 12 passengers and their 3 guides this rafting trip will become 13 days that they will never forget.
Elisabeth Hyde's characters are ones you know. They're not all strapping 20 somethings out on a lark, but rather regular folks who, for their own personal reasons, have decided to take this time to make this white-water trek.
They may not all be people you would choose to take a vacation with, but they all turn out to have something that they bring and something that they hope to get out of this adventure.
I was with them every twist and turn of the way. I loved the ride! When it was finished, I wanted to start it all over again with another group. An adventure awaits you within the covers of this book.
Profile Image for Brian.
1,659 reviews41 followers
April 28, 2011
This book was surely going to be a five star book when it was reading it, but upon finishing it, I took it down a notch or two. The book started out with a LOT of characters, so many in fact it needed a character guide, which came in handy as I read through it. The premise is that a group of mostly strangers is taking a trip through the Grand Canyons on the rapids. They range from an elderly couple, to a single 27 year old, to a heavy girl and her mom, along with some river guides. Some of the characters were more fleshed out than others. I enjoyed learning about the Grand Canyon, and always felt the sense of danger the characters probably felt. Therein lies my issue with this book, nothing really AWFUl happened. As morbid as that sounds, I kind of was waiting for something horrible to befall the characters. And while I don't want to spoil the story, things DO happen, just not what I was expecting to. All in all, this was a good, well written book.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
296 reviews43 followers
January 6, 2013
The following statements from the book emphasize what the story meant to me:

"The fact that there was no turning back, that they could not go forward--that they were committed to the [river] run, like it or not--suddenly seemed profound...."

"'You can do it', said Don, 'because you have to do it.'"

A very powerful story, with adult themes, that I highly recommend especially if you enjoy stories set in the Grand Canyon, the American West, river runs, or outdoor adventures. I thoroughly enjoyed the story whose themes and ideas are very much present in my life.

Profile Image for Kathy Stauffer.
11 reviews4 followers
December 28, 2017
I chose Elisabeth Hyde's IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON at random while perusing the bookshelves. I often do this and am often disappointed with my randomness. This book was not a disappointment. The intermix of personalities while rafting the river is a microcosm in a sense of society. There is one surprise after another and most "surprises" are not due to the river's current or the weather on any particular day.

Hyde includes the thought processes of the head guide (JT) and the other rafters. I felt Dixie and another assistant guide's personalities could have been further developed.
Profile Image for Dolores.
175 reviews17 followers
September 27, 2014
"In the Heart of the Canyon" has everything....an exciting raft trip on the Colorado River, descriptions of the fabulous scenery, and a group of the most interesting travelers you can imagine. They struggle with the hardships and the personality clashes as the days go by, and JT, the trip leader who has made the river run 124 times, has his hand full on this run.I enjoyed every page and the satisfying ending very much.
Profile Image for Rachael.
93 reviews
September 16, 2011
At first I thought this story was going to be kind of cheesy, and it was a bit, but in the end I really enjoyed it. More than the story itself I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Canyon. They were really amazing. Maybe I should keep a copy of this one to reread when the Seattle gloom starts to get me down, and I need a dose of desert sun.
Profile Image for Katie.
90 reviews1 follower
September 13, 2011
It's really not a good book, I just had to read it because I've just come off the Canyon. I hated "the twist" in the storyline, but I liked remembering the rapids.
920 reviews5 followers
August 17, 2017
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Everyone, EVERYONE, lives happily ever after. Well, we don't know for sure about the happily every after part, but EVERYONE lives!! Taking a raft trip through the Grand Canyon is something I've never, ever wanted to do. This book covers all the reasons I don't ever want to do it - heat, rattlesnakes, heat, rapids, heat, sand, heat... It's one of the last things I want to do. I think I'd jump out of a perfectly good airplane before I would go through the Canyon on the Colorado River (which should be the Green River!) However, since it is something I never plan to do, I really enjoyed reading about a trip through the canyon. I really felt I was along for the ride. The characters were very real people. I'd recognize them if I met them in a group of people. The dog reminded me of both my Shilo and my Mariah. The descriptions are wonderful. I found myself longing for a glass of ice cold water. I wish the menus had been included. What did they eat for dinner for all those nights? What did they eat for breakfast? What if you don't drink coffee? Was there tea? There really was no mystery to solve, but I guessed what Amy's tummy pains were right away. I do wonder if people who have made the trip like the book, or whether they see it as pure fiction. I think if I had made the trip, I would enjoy reading the book and remembering the adventures, the pull outs, the beauty, the danger. The best part of the book - the happy ending!
201 reviews6 followers
September 12, 2022
I started this novel, set in the Grand Canyon about a group of people rafting down the Colorado, about a week before I was going to run the river. I put it down, not wanting to get any insight into what lay ahead for me. I'm glad I did. Having just run the river with a group of strangers, experiencing the rapids, backcountry, heat, and camaraderie added another dimension for me.

But, most people will not be running the river, ever. This novel tells a good story: people who face challenges and become different people in the process. It also does a great job of describing what it's like to be down in the canyon with a bunch of folks you don't know. There are unique places down there, unique experiences (did I mention the heat?). Hyde describes them so even if you haven't been there, you will hear the roar of the rapids, feel the tension of running the big ones like Hance and Lava Falls, and see relationships develop as they do when you spend 15 days in close proximity with people you don't know to start but you will consider friends by the time you take out at Diamond Creek. It's clear that Hyde has been down there a bunch and knows well how things work in the backcountry in the Grand Canyon.

If you are an armchair adventurer or maybe you are curious about what it's like to run the big river, this novel will take you there. And there's a serious people story too; it's not just a travelogue.
Profile Image for Linda Appelbaum.
519 reviews5 followers
January 13, 2018
Rarely have I read a book so vividly descriptive while also being enjoyable, fascinating, at times a nail bitter, slyly funny, heart warming and absorbing. This author made the Grand Canyon rafting trip come alive, describing the river and the canyon walls as it they were alive. I feel as though I was on that rafting trip with the 15 other people, 3 of which were guides. The rest were their passengers for almost 2 weeks and despite being a fairly fast read, all of these different people were nicely fleshed out and also were real to me. I was quite impressed with Ms. Hyde's ability to accomplish all of this - she is quite skilled. The story of the rafting trip with a potpourri of 12 very different personalities who were mostly strangers to each other was sometimes intense, funny, heart warming and enchanting. To lighten the mood, along comes a stray dog and it has an impact on each of the rafters, some being deeply disturbed and against having the dog, other immediately falling in love with him. While each of the characters became rather dear or annoying to me, Amy, the "fat girl" is the heart of the story. These characters will amaze, annoy, fascinate, humor and enlighten you as they carry you along for the ride. You want adventure? It's right at your fingertips!!
149 reviews
August 14, 2019
Really enjoyed this book. Not my usual type of read, but I got it as part of a bundle from a charity shop and took it on holiday with me. It kept me engaged throughout.
The story follows the journey of a group of holiday makers -all strangers- who have paid to travel down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon. As their journey develops, the group form cliques and turn on others. Secrets are revealed. Accidents happen. We get to know each character really well.
I enjoyed getting to know the characters who were all interesting in different ways. There is the elderly couple who have made this trip every year but are making it for the last time now that the husband is suffering with dementia; the family struggling to stay together; the single man who only came on the trip hoping to enjoy sex with no strings; the geek who annoys everyone with the his knowledge of the Grand Canyon gleaned from books.
It was also interesting to learn about the canyon itself. To make this trip sounds incredible.
I would recommend this book as a light, holiday read.
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