Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The River Between Us
Peck, Richard. 2003. THE RIVER BETWEEN US. New York, New York: Dial Books. ISBN 0803727356
2. PLOT SUMMARY
THE RIVER BETWEEN US is about two different stories of a family set in very different times. Although, the first story is only told in the first and last chapter, it helps you understand how much the times have changes and what eventually happens with the characters. The majority of the story is set in 1861 in Tower Rock, Illinois with the Pruitt family. Tilly Pruitt and her twin brother Noah are very normal fifteen year olds except for the fact that the Civil War is about to begin and Noah is learning how to be solider. Tilly’s sister Cass also has an unusual quality about herself; she can look into the past and present to see how people are going to die.
One evening a riverboat from New Orleans came into the harbor with two very unique women who were about to change this town and the Pruitt family forever. Delphine Duval and Calinda, who may or may not be a slave, are not like the other women in this town; Delphine wears corsets, bonnets, gloves in the summer and knows how to get her way with men. During their stay with the Pruitt family, the Civil War heats up which eventually calls Noah away to be with the rest of the soldiers. Over the next few months the adventures of war, love and death become the main characters in the story.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Richard Peck’s develops a handful of characters in this story that all struggle with finding themselves and dealing with the consequences of the Civil War. Tilly the main character begins the story as a timid and shy young girl that is holding her family together. She is there to comfort her sister Cass, watch over her brother Noah, and attend to a mother who is so fearful she is about to lose the only man still in her life. The other strong character in the book is Delphine Duval from New Orleans. The author paints a very visual picture of the first time the two characters meets and how shocked Tilly was to see this woman from the South. “Heavens, I’d never seen such skirts- rustling taffeta stretched wide over hoops… She must be from New Orleans. No town between here and there could have produced her.”
It was also such a surprise to find out the real secret Delphine had been hiding about her past at the end of the story. As the readers is finding out more about this strange yet beautiful woman you know that something is not right but Peck does a brilliant job of revealing a past that no reader would have guessed. The other character that brings a lot of mystery to this story is Calinda, who wore a tignon on her head, sold pralines to make extra money, and took care of Delphine and the rest of the Pruitt family.
Much of this story setting is in the small town of Tower Rock but the scenes in Cairo, Illinois with the soldier tents and hospital paints the true picture of the Civil War. When Tilly and Delphine stepped off the train in Cairo they could already smell the rotten food, diseases from the troops, and the many soldiers who were already dead. Camp Defiance was described as, “A tent city inside, row and row of whiten tents, close as teeth. The first ones were raised over wooden floors.” What was also interesting to read was the techniques these two women used to nursed so many soldiers back to health. They brought quilts, built a bonfire for warmth and washing clothes; hand washed the weak, and cooked them meals.
Peck’s style of writing in the book is in the first person, through the voice of Tilly. He also uses the French dialect of New Orleans in his character of Delphine. Some examples of the dialect used by this character are: enchantee madame, bonjour, tante blanche, papa, and maman. The last few pages of the book are notes from Richard Peck that describes facts and true stories from this period in time.
My overall opinion of the book, THE RIVER BETWEEN US was that is was ok. I had a few problems at the beginning understanding the story in 1916 and how those characters were relating to the characters in the story in 1861. I also felt like the author jumped around a lot in terms of Civil War events and who was on what side. My favorite part in the book is the last few chapters when Tilly and Delphine go to save Noah and all the secrets are revealed, but this point in the story started and then abruptly ended. Also, I am not sure how the Cass character and her visions really affected the story and what significance it had. The book has some good characters and good themes but I wish some of the story would have been elaborated and other parts deleted.
4. REVIEW EXCERPTS
*Publisher Weekly- “In our Best Books citation, PW wrote, "The author crafts his characters impeccably and threads together their fates in surprising ways that shed light on the complicated events of the Civil War."
*Children’s Literature- “The strength of the two characters and the relationship they establish transcends the horrors of war and the prejudices of gender and race, and highlight lesser known historical facts and make them real.”
*Kirkus Reviews- “Peck writes beautifully, bringing history alive through Tilly's marvelous voice and deftly handling themes of family, race, war, and history. A rich tale full of magic, mystery, and surprise.”
*2004 Winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
*Read other historical fiction novels about the Civil War.
-THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE ISBN 9780486434223
-ACROSS FIVE APRILS ISBN 9780425182789
-RIFLES FOR WATIE ISBN 9780064470308
*Complete the Literature Circle Questions based on the book.
*Have students create a timeline of historical events that happened during the Civil War: Lincoln inaugurated, Battle of Shiloh, Battle of Gettysburg, Lee Surrenders, etc.