Winner of the 2019 Nebula Award for Best Young Adult Fiction, “Riverland” tells the story to two sisters, Eleanor and Mike. From the very beginning it’s apparent things are not right in their family. Eleanor tells Mike stories to keep them calm and distract them from the tension between their mom and dad. We soon learn that the problem is their father, who is abusive and their mother, who enables him, and is manipulative herself. Soon the sisters find themselves falling, literally, into a fantasy world that mirrors their own but is unique unto itself. Things aren’t going well on the river either and it’s up to the two girls to fix it. Working hard to keep up the charade of making everyone at school think things are fine and trying to please abusive parents, the girls realize they aren’t going to be successful. They soon learn the only way to fix things is to be honest about things not being ok.
Usually I don’t enjoy books with so much family tension. It’s hard to be a bystander while these two girls try to thrive in such a toxic environment. Fran Wilde does a great job setting up the tension and toxicity of the parents without making it gratuitous. In fact, it felt realistic without being overwhelming as a reader. What helps is that we have this Riverland world where we get some catharsis and the girls are able to find their autonomy and agency. There’s also some friends and family members who step in and aid the girls. Overall I think this is a great book for young adults to learn what abuse looks like, or to help them process abusive families they have.
This would be a good book to show the importance of fantasy. How breaking with reality can actually help us process the reality in which we find ourselves. This is a meta-lesson since this is exactly what Eleanor and Mike experience in the text.