Tears of the River by Gordon L. Rottman

Tears of the River by Gordon L. Rottman
Publisher: Hartwood
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (168 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A coming of age self-discovery story of frantic survival, the value of diversity, dependence on one another.

Fifteen-year-old Karen Herber is exactly where she wants to be—in the Nicaraguan rainforest with a volunteer medical team. What she had not expected was a hurricane collapsing a bridge to wipe out her team and a mudslide burying a village. Only a Nicaraguan six-year-old girl and a forty-four-year-old woman with both arms broken survive the mudslide. Then she finds that Jaydon Bonner survived, a privileged, arrogant seventeen-year-old American tenderfoot. Academic and confidence concerns are already dragging Karen down and she was tagged a “weak leader” in Outward Bound School. Her doctor parents are pushing her into a medical career, of which she’s uncertain. Less than fluent in Spanish, but an experienced backpacker, the reluctant leader is challenged by Nature, animals, desperate men and her fellow survivors’ mistrust and cultural differences. Their only path to salvation is a risky boat trip down a rainforest river, 150 miles to the mysterious Mosquito Coast. Karen soon finds her companions’ experiences, so different from her own, invaluable with each deadly encounter forging a closer bond between them.

Would you know how to stay alive after surviving a devastating natural disaster in a tiny, remote village?

This was one of the most intense books I’ve read in a long time. The blurb strongly hinted that there would be wild, unpredictable adventures for these characters, and it definitely delivered on that promise. What surprised me the most about it, though, was how quickly the adrenaline rush began. The pacing was strong from the very first scene. It didn’t give me any room to breathe until I knew how the whole thing ended.

Karen’s character development was uneven. The life-threatening situations she found herself in brought out her deepest flaws so often that I had trouble relating to her. She came across as incredibly judgemental of and impatient with other people. While I appreciated the fact that her weaknesses were never downplayed, I really would have liked to see more concrete examples of Karen’s strengths as well. Her ability to remain calm in a crisis, wilderness survival skills, and emergency medical training were excellent, yet they never seemed to get as much attention as all of the negative things one could say about her.

A healthy portion of the dialogue was written in Spanish. With the exception of a few incredibly well-known words like hola or bueno, everything was then translated into English. As someone who knows a little bit of Spanish, I appreciated the opportunity to attempt to figure out what the characters were saying before the narrator revealed the actual translation. All of these sentences were short enough that they didn’t slow down the flow of the plot, but they were also long enough to share important character and background information with the audience.

I was a little surprised to discover a romantic subplot in this book. It developed so quickly that I had a hard time understanding why the characters involved in it were interested in one another to begin with. They shared little in common and didn’t seem like the kind of people who would become friends, much less anything more serious than that. This idea might have worked well in a sequel where there was much more time to devote to exploring why their feelings about each other shifted, but it felt out of place in this particular story.

Imagine wandering around in an unfamiliar, dangerous environment for days on end. I expected a lot of things from this kind of setting, but finding some parts of it funny really wasn’t one of them. The handful of humorous scenes temporarily interrupted the building tension at exactly the right times. As a reader, I needed those breaks from feeling so much dread before diving back into the main plot. Writing it this way was a good decision.

Give Tears of the River a try if you’re in the mood for a heart-pounding experience.

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