First review of the week. Heads up, I got real talkative in both of the up coming reviews.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
The Rivers Between Us by Richard Peck
Synopsis From The Book
The year is 1861. Civil war is imminent and Tilly Pruitt’s brother, Noah, is eager to go and fight on the side of the North. With her father long gone, Tilly, her sister, and their mother struggle to make ends meet and hold the dwindling Pruitt family together. Then one night a mysterious girl arrives on a steamboat bound for St. Louis. Delphine is unlike anyone the small river town has even seen. Mrs. Pruitt agrees to take Delphine and her dark, silent traveling companion in as boarders. No one in town knows what to make of the two strangers, and so the rumors fly. Is Delphine’s companion a slave? Could they be spies for the South? Are the Pruitts traitors? A masterful tale of mystery and war, and a breathtaking portrait of the lifelong impact one person can have on another.
Drama – Period Fiction | C – E | Talk of War and war violence, abandonment, racism | Identity, Community, Questioning Personal Ideologies
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
How many times have I tried to start this book? Answer: too many. It’s a Civil War story. I don’t know what to feel about it. But I do know that it is in 1st person and about two girls. I think? IDK. Little expectations. My aunt got it for free (or like a quarter) from her school’s annual book restocking (where her school restocks their library and gets rid of all the books that haven’t been checked out in a long time). Thus, it’s mine now. Let’s do this.
This book is going to be read for my O.W.L.s for the prompt of Potions (under 150 pages). This book is a little bit of a cheat. It’s 158pg, but because of Isolation procedures I couldn’t get another book that is shorter (additionally, kindle books are weird and the pages are always a mess so I can’t use that). I also didn’t want to buy another book just for this prompt when I have this one that is close enough on my TBR. If I have time at the end of the readathon, maybe I’ll order some poetry collection because those are always under 150 pages (or most of the time are) and use it instead.
UPDATE: This book STARTS on page 5. That means its actually 153pgs. I really don’t feel as bad.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
THAT’S INCORRECT HISTORY FOR CORSETS. I got less than 50 pages in, saw this, and almost threw the book across the room. I took a minute (or an hour, or a few) to calm myself down before continuing on because I was so angry. A few other things peeved me off about this book and I just could not keep going. However there were some things that this book did real well and that just floors me. I’m stuck in a place, a very odd place. I did identify with the two sisters, I truly did, so part of me really cares for this book, and other part is raving mad about the corsets.
The novel is told as a frame story and the inner story. The frame is of Dr. William Hutchings. He has three sons (two who are twins), and lives in the St. Louis area with his wife. He decides to take his kids up North to visit his family for the first time ever. His wife refuses to go. She does not like his family very much (and based on the synopsis and time period, it’s racism 100%). They arrive and they meet William’s two sets of parents (who essentially raised him). His mother and father, and his aunt and uncle. Tilly, Dr. Hutchings, Noah (Tilly’s Twin), and Delphine.
The main story begins in 1861, shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected president. The Illinois town is celebrating because Lincoln is an Illinois man, but most of them aren’t Republicans. Tilly and Noah know that the South seceded but not much more of their life has changed. One night after a party, a ship from New Orleans arrives with Delphine and Calinda. Delphine is a dramatic southern belle, and everyone believes Calinda her slave. Tilly’s mother takes them in when they have nowhere else to go (they were supposed to stop in St. Louis, but stuff changed and they had to flee more north.) Tilly’s family begins to change as the two come to their life. Cass, Noah and Tilly’s little sister, begins to get better because of Calinda. Cass has vision powers that were hurting her, and Calinda helps her. Tilly starts to take after Delphine and Delphine’s complete confidence in herself and her sexuality and appearance. Noah and Delphine grow close, and he defends her at all times even when others call her a confederate spy. As time progresses, men and boys from the town join the war (on both sides) and Noah ends up leaving. Delphine and Tilly go to chase him back, after he said people were getting sick in one of his letters. They nurse him and other soldiers back to health, and Noah then completes his training and goes to war. While at the camp, Delphine and Tilly meet a woman while talking with Dr. Hutchings (who is the man who helped her brother and Tilly knew) who sees Delphine for who her father is. Delphine is black but white passing, rather half white half black (or less black than that). She explains the culture of New Orleans and the culture in New Orlean as well as how black women were not allowed to marry white men, no matter what. She loves Noah, but she can’t marry Noah. Calinda is her sister. The war ends, Noah comes home but he loses an arm. They find that their father died in the war (probably in the same battle where Noah lost his arm but on the Confederate side whereas Noah fought for the Union) and their mother went to the river. Calinda leaves soon after to go west and Cass dies a year later.
The frame ends with them speaking on how Delphine is dying and how William wanted to introduced his boys once to her. He explains to his eldest son (and the frame narrator) that Delphine is his mother and Noah his father. Noah and Delphine never did get married, although their family lied and Calinda left to go west to help Delphine avoid suspicion. The father wanted them to know their heritage.
What I Liked:
Delphine; I love her. For everything that it’s worth. Even if she was a confederate sympathizer, it was mostly because she didn’t want her life to be destroyed in New Orleans. I can’t blame her. She’s pretty dramatic, and I can’t blame her because she had to (and has to) put on a show for her own survival, especially when she first went North. She had to lie and she had to lie convincingly.
Calinda/CoinCoin; A 17 year old girl who is good with visions and medicines and pretty much a standard witch character. We don’t get much on her other than how she is a good older sister. She is half white half black (or less than that) and isn’t white passing, but “she’d be light enough to be Spanish” and her skin is probably the same color as mine.
Noah and Tilly; I did like them both.
Use of french; I loved how lush Delphine’s vocabulary is when she speaks. She weaves french and english together. I really loved this part, I think, the most of the book.
The reveals; While Delphine being mixed was about as clear as can be from the very beginning, the fact that William was her son threw me off. I should have known, but for some reason I didn’t. I did like this.
New Orleans Free People of Color; I don’t think I’ve read about this in a book for such a young audience, and for the general point of how it was addressed I did not oppose it. Was it perfect? No. Can any book be perfect? No. However this book addresses it, and addresses the problems in it, while also addressing the issues of what would happen with the North winning. Personally, I do need to do more research on the repercussions on the North winning and what happened in New Orleans, but I’m happy it was taught in this book that the culture existed and basics on its dynamics. It’s a good place to speak from. For a book written in 2003, I’m going to give it the props it deserves.
Afterward; It had a lot of good information that can be used to have a conversation with a younger audience about identity and the likes.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
CORSETS: I’m about to freak out in fury. THIS WAS NONSENSE. Tight lacing a young girl (well, she’s 15 but still)? NONSENSE The mother passing out twice on her wedding day, twice? Why was she tight laced? It’s not common practice. Yes, people did it, but most people didn’t. PLEASE STOP. It’s 1861. Its standard practice for all girls and women to have corsets, for upper, middle, and many working class ladies (which would mean most women but slaves and the poor, I think. I’d have to do more research). It was a staple of the wardrobe and if they didn’t have a corset, they had stays (last I checked). I’m about to destroy someone. Yes, corsets can change the body. Anything worn long enough can change the body (pointe-shoes, heels, bras, etc.) and pregnancy does too. However they (corsets) are not as dangerous as everyone makes them out to be. They were standard fashion, and I’d even say that the myths surrounding them is patriarchal BS more than anything. They were not that bad. All clothes, before modern fast fashion, were tailored and made for the body, either by hand or by a professional. This includes corsets. If you wear a badly sized pair of shoes you are going to hurt your body, the same is true for corsets. Additionally, the idea that everyone tight laced and made their lives impossible to work with is just… I can’t. People wore padding, hoop skirts and other things to make a larger distinction between hips and waist and bust. I’m just floored. And I understand that this moment is just a moment (pgs 42-44) but it was enough to make me want to scream. Also, you don’t wear corsets on the bare skin. You are supposed to wear a layer under it (so the how she was putting it on was wrong in another way).
How do you say it: While I did like the french use, Delphine does say this a lot and I noticed.
Earned her Tigon; I’m just? What?? On page 72, Calinda dresses Cass with her tigon and lets her run around. And then Delphine rips it off Cass’ head and says that Cass did not earn it. I’m just… what? By the end of the novel I still don’t know what “earns” means. However, I would like to believe that it is implied that Delphine sees the tigon as a sign of her people reclaiming themselves and gaining their rights (since the author did know this based on the afterward). If I’m right, by this point in history New Orleans WOC were wearing them as a sign of expression, but I’m not positive. If this is what she meant by “earned” (as in a sort of ‘you don’t understand what this means and symbolizes, our people were controlled by this.’ A cultural appropriation commentary) then I respect it, otherwise I’m just confused and would have liked a better answer.
Up until the very end of the book and the Delphine reveal and the family reveal, this was a a 2/5 for me (mostly because of my changes). I’m tempted to give it a 4/5 because of the inclusion of the New Orleans Free People of Color, but I’m still very angry about some other things and the characters weren’t that good to me. I may reevaluate after I give myself some time, because this is a children’s book.
none. I got a little angry.