Title: The River by Michael Neale
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Fiction, Historical (1950s-1970s)
Length: 296 pages
Book Rating: B
Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley
“You were made for The River . . .”
Gabriel Clarke is mysteriously drawn to The River, a ribbon of frothy white water carving its way through steep canyons high in the Colorado Rockies. The rushing waters beckon him to experience freedom and adventure.
But something holds him back—the memory of the terrible event he witnessed on The River when he was just five years old—something no child should ever see.
Chains of fear and resentment imprison Gabriel, keeping him from discovering the treasures of The River. He remains trapped, afraid to take hold of the life awaiting him.
When he returns to The River after years away, his heart knows he is finally home. His destiny is within reach. Claiming that destiny will be the hardest—and bravest—thing he has ever done.
Michael Neale’s debut novel The River is a powerful and compelling story about forgiveness. Following a traumatic loss, five year old Gabriel Clarke leaves Colorado, where generations of his family have run a whitewater rafting business, for a new life with his mother in Kansas. Timid, scared and scarred by his past, Gabriel lives a lonely life. A trip back to Colorado and a whitewater adventure at age twenty proves to be a defining moment as he comes face to face with the life he should have been living.
Beginning in 1956 when Gabriel Clarke is five years old, The River is a riveting story that follows him through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Through the gentle guidance of several key people in his life, Gabriel finds the strength and courage to overcome the grief and tragedy that irrevocably changed his life. In facing his past, he discovers his strong connection to The River that his father and grandfather revered.
There are several people who influence the direction Gabriel’s life goes. Earl and Vonda Cartwright become surrogate grandparents for Gabriel and Earl plays a pivotal role in Gabriel overcoming his fear of water. Young Jimmy Bly is a childhood friend whose enthusiasm and zest for life take Gabriel from outsider to active participant in many childhood adventures. It is Jimmy who coerces Gabriel into the trip to Colorado; a trip that radically alters Gabriel’s future. With schoolteacher Lily Collinsgworth, Gabriel finds a kindred spirit through their shared grief. His attraction to Tabitha Fielding is a large part of his decision to return to Colorado. Ezra Buchanan becomes the link between his past and his present and his wisdom proves invaluable to Gabriel. Gabriel is most drawn to Tabitha’s father Jacob, and his connection to Gabriel’s past is the most shocking and ultimately, the most healing.
The River is a beautifully written story about love, family, facing one’s fears and forgiveness. It is also an inspirational read that teaches a powerful lesson in letting go of the past and embracing the future. Michael Neale is a gifted storyteller whose prose brings the characters and the various settings vibrantly to life.
I highly recommend this captivating and thought-provoking novel.