My Name is River by Emma Rea

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Published by Firefly Press, 2020.

I thoroughly enjoyed My Name is River – an ecological adventure story set in the Amazon. It’s a real page-turner and I was hooked from the start. The pacing is great and there’s lots of excitement and tension. I really couldn’t put it down.

The story begins in Wales on eleven-year-old Dylan’s family farm. His family have worked the farm for generations and Dylan has his future mapped out there. When BlueBird, a large pharmaceutical company, outbids Dylan’s parents and purchases the farm, Dylan decides he must speak to the CEO of BlueBird and convince him to change his mind. Dylan and his friend Floyd hatch a plan to save the farm and weeks later (unbeknownst to their parents) they are on a flight to Brazil where the BlueBird headquarters are.

However, when they get to Salvador things don’t go quite to plan. The two boys are separated. There’s kidnap, armed gangs, unpleasant henchmen and a power-hungry villain. Luckily, Lucia – a streetwise street kid from the city’s slums – saves Dylan’s life and the two of them venture deep into the Amazon to uncover the truth about BlueBird. The children face very real danger and use their wits to survive.

I absolutely love the character of Lucia! She’s feisty, extremely intelligent and a real force to be reckoned with. Having survived without parents, she’s brave and resourceful. Above all she has the most amazing way with words. She’s taught herself English from reading anything she can get her hands on and she treasures her thesaurus, always opting for the “higher register” words when she speaks. As a consequence, her unnatural speech is often endearingly comical.

The theme of friendship is extremely important throughout the book. There’s the very close friendship – with roots in early childhood – between Dylan and his friends from school. These boys have shared history, a shared sense of humour, and shared places that they’ve come to regard as theirs. It’s a genuine, unbreakable bond. Then there’s the friendship between Dylan and Floyd which develops during the story. Initially, Dylan isn’t quite sure what to make of Floyd as he seems cold and closed-off and it was good to see this friendship evolve. Finally there’s the friendship between Dylan and Lucia, the homeless street girl from the favela.  Theirs is a relationship forged in peril and it’s by far my favourite dynamic of the book. There’s a terrific chemistry between Dylan and Lucia and the two make a great partnership.

I really liked how the book explores the connectedness of places. Dylan comes to realise how the natural world is interconnected. He thinks of the water cycle and reflects on how water from a river in Wales might eventually end up falling as rain in the Amazon. Nature is a significant force in the book. For Dylan, nature has the power to comfort and reassure. He is grounded and centred by it.

I love a female villain and in Miss Crassy we have been given a scheming, ruthless mastermind. Her sinister plans, when they are finally revealed, are actually rather shocking: a “scandalising travesty of the highest order”, as Lucia puts it.

Another aspect of the book that I loved were the evocative descriptions of Salvador and the Amazonian rainforest. Emma Rea has travelled to both and she’s brought them vividly to life on the page. Salvador is a city of contrasts – the colours and the hustle and bustle of city life and the darker danger of the slums. In the scenes set in the Amazon, you really get a sense of the rich biodiversity of the rainforest: pink river dolphins, howler monkeys, sloths, tree frogs and toucans are just some of the creatures that Dylan and Lucia encounter.

I particularly enjoyed Dylan’s original description of the Amazon River as he looked down at it from the aeroplane:

“Strangely, it was two-tone, split down its length: one half was black, the other sandy. It was as if one half were made of molasses, the thick brown sweet treacle Mum made gingerbread with, and the other half of fudge.”

My Name is River is an exciting ecological adventure that’s full of heart. It’s extremely topical and will strike a chord with young readers concerned about the future of our planet.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Firefly Press for providing me with an electronic version of this book via NetGalley. I reviewed this book as part of the My Name is River blog tour where I interviewed author Emma Rea. Click here to find out about her writing process.

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