Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Review of The River Between Hearts by Heather Mateus Sappenfield

The River Between Hearts by Heather Mateus Sappenfield 
Format:  ARC-Paperback
Publisher:  Fitzroy Books
Number of pages:  162 
Publishing:  February 1st, 2022
Source: Publisher via Books Forward

Opening Line:  "My tree house, Fort Kruse, wasn't far from home if you had wings."

It's the beginning of summer vacation and Rill is still aching over her dad's tragic accident and the river that "stole" him from her over a year ago.  Since then, her enjoyment for things she used to do before her dad left, like riding her bike, drawing and visiting the fort that he helped build for her have waned.  Instead, Rill has been filled with a deep anger, anger toward her dad's partner Gus, who everyone refers to as a guardian angel for helping keep the Kruse families Whitewater Adventure rafting business running.  Anger toward her older brother, Eddy who has taken to calling her a baby and dork.  And anger toward her dad for not heeding his own advice and falling into the river.  Despite all this, Rill is determined that her dad will be coming home any day.  A fact that she angrily shared with her friend Whitney that ended up causing a rift between the two.  

Then one day while following her cat, Clifford, Rill ends up at the family tree fort. Inside she discovers a stowaway girl from her school, Perla.  At first the two girls are startled by each other's presence in the fort, and initially Perla even runs away and hides in the forest, but Rill senses that Perla could use some help and slowly gains her trust.  The story slowly pieces together why Perla was hiding in Rill's fort and sends the two girls on an adventure to locate Perla's missing father.

The River Between Hearts is a beautiful story of friendship, parental loss, compassion and the connections Rill and Perla make that heals their broken hearts.  The inspiration for the story is based on the author's own experience working in the public school system as a language arts teacher, and the immigrant students she taught and observed at school.  She takes great care in exploring immigration, deportation and touches briefly on why Perla's family came to the United States, and the challenges they experienced to find work and make a life for their children.  But this story is really Rill's story, her feelings, anxiety, anger and her trying to come to terms with the loss of her father and to eventually forgive him.  It's a story about compassion, which Rill oozes with, and learning to have empathy for other people.  Rill also learns to look inside herself and grows as a person throughout the story.  I quite enjoyed the Colorado setting, the way the author draws you into Rill's world at the Whitewater Rafting company and all the extended people around her.  I loved watching her grow from this angry, sad girl into becoming more in control of her emotions and able to correct her mistakes.  It's a very touching story, with wonderful characters, and a heartfelt resolution that you won't soon forget.     ** A huge thank you to the publisher and Books Forward for the ARC review copy. **

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