Just when we thought Mark Twain had said all there is to say about the Mighty Mississippi (River, that is), Richard Peck comes along to make sure we know otherwise. Stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi puts the "river" in The River Between Us.
A story within a story, The River Between Us is the tale of Howard Leland Hutchings, who crosses the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri, on his way to visit family in Grand Tower, Illinois, in 1916. While he's there, Grandma Tilly takes over the storytelling, detailing the family's experiences in the first year of the Civil War, a time when two mysterious young women from New Orleans moved in with the Pruitts, and Grandma Tilly's twin brother, Noah, went to war. Needless to say, life doesn't stay calm for long, and there's more than one secret waiting to be revealed.
Published in 2003, The River Between Us won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2004, and it was also a finalist for the National Book Award. So, in case you're thinking you've read all there is to read about the Civil War, rest assured that this tale is kind of a big deal.
But don't take our word for it. Crack open the spine and let Howard and Tilly convince you themselves.
Why should you care about this book? We bet Howard Leland Hutchings, who's 15 years old in 1916, wonders the very same thing when his Grandma Tilly starts talking about a bunch of stuff that happened in 1861. After all, in 1916—when Howard is listening—this story was already over 50 years in the past. But, here's the thing: as Howard figures out, time might go by, but some things simply don't change.
In 1916, the United States was a few months away from entering what was then known as the Great War (aka World War I). In April 1861, when Tilly's story begins, the Civil War is a few months away from becoming a major player in the Pruitt family's lives. And, of course, wars still affect us today. The River Between Us asks us to consider how we respond to them and to think about the personal effects war has on both us and the people we love. You know, since war just keeps happening, no matter how old our grandma seems when she talks about it.
We should note that battlegrounds aside, another major theme in the novel is racism, which, like war, continues to rear its ugly head today. So again, this book might take place way back in the day, but it's far from irrelevant to today's readers. And importantly, in the end, Howard discovers that Grandma Tilly's story gives him courage to face his future by understanding his past. Fingers crossed that reading this book does the same for you, too.
In His Own Words
Here's Richard Peck's page on the website of publisher Scholastic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the guy's pretty fond of books.
The Most Famous Battle You've Never Heard Of
Check out the National Park Service's page for the Battle of Belmont.
While you can't visit Delphine, you can get an intro to New Orleans and its beginnings.
"A Long Way From Decatur"
Richard Peck talks to Publishers Weekly about his writing career and what he hopes to accomplish with his work. He also explores why he writes historical fiction.
On Books for Young Adults
Check out Peck's Ezra Jack Keats Lecture at the University of Southern Mississippi from 2000. Warning: he doesn't seem super thrilled with the way things are going in 21st-century America.
Teaching Writers to Write
Richard Peck gives a Master Class to members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
Richard Peck Is a National Big Deal
Richard Peck speaks at the National Book Festival in 2013.
Listen to Richard Peck pronounce his name here.
A "Good Conversation" With Richard Peck
Richard Peck talks about his writing, including both older and newer works. If you liked this book, this is the link for you.
What the Heck Does Peck Look Like?
Wonder no longer, dear Shmooper.
This is a picture of the original hardcover edition of The River Between Us.
Now in Paperback
Noah (and his arm) gets a bit more face time on this cover.