Before River, everything was perfect. . . .Growing up on a Canadian dairy farm less than two miles from the American border, fifteen-year-old Natalie Ward knows little of the outside world. But her loving, close-knit family is the envy of young and old alike in the nearby town of Atwood. Natalie adores her three brothers—especially Boyer, the eldest, whom she idolizes. But everything changes one hot July afternoon in 1966 when a long-haired stranger appears at their door—a soft-spoken American, a Vietnam War resister, who will test the family's morals and beliefs, and set in motion catastrophic events that will shatter Natalie's relationships with those she most dearly loves.
It is hard to believe that this was Ms. Milner’s first novel as it is so well written. I loved the Canadian content and felt that I could relate and picture her story vividly.
One of my favourite excerpts from the book was: “My favourite memory is of my father and brothers working in the fields. I carry a mental picture of them drenched in the golden glow of the late summer sun. I keep this precious gem hidden deep in the dark closet of my mind, behind all of life's stored clutter. I take it out rarely, cautiously. Like a fragile object stored in opaque tissue, I unwrap it with slow trepidation. I turn it this way and that, trying to see more, to see beyond the faded edges of memory". This is an outstanding example of what I meant about such vivid imagery.
Natalie Ward, is a happily married middle-aged mother and a natural journalist who also has a capacity for showing great empathy and kindness, but she also has secrets - mostly about her family and childhood. These secrets and a sudden phone call from her daughter Jenny telling her that her mother Nettie is dying, thrusts Natalie back into the past where she forced to relive memories and events as she grows up on her family's dairy farm in British Columbia.
Natalie seems to relish in her alienation. At school she does nothing to encourage friendships, content to spend most of her spare time with Boyer (her older, bookish brother), playing his word games in his room up in the attic and reading his books. Things change when a young American draft-dodger by the name of River Jordan comes to live and work with the Ward family.
Natalie falls in love with River however, nobody could predict the eventual heartache that came with River’s arrival as it was the catalyst that caused the is the tragedy and shattering of her family come about. River’s ghost still echoes throughout their lives for decades to come.
When Natalie travels towards Atwood on the bus thirty-five years later, "like a time machine carrying her in slow motion back to her past," she must ask for forgiveness from her mother Nettie and her brother Boyer and see beyond the faded edges of memory. Natalie longs to unburden herself and to finally confess and seek redemption and forgiveness.
The theme I found the most profound was the bigotry and intolerance that isolated the Ward family - as anything or anyone out of the ordinary was shunned.
What we learn is that children see things differently then adults. Heartache and heartbreak could have been avoided if Natalie had opened up and confronted her demons when she was a teenager. Instead she bottled everything up which affected her life.
It is a very good read and I enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Rating 4 out of 5