The River Keepers – Michael F. Stewart

Spoilers Ahead!

While I was reading this book I kept trying to think of ways to talk about it without including spoilers but I can’t think of any way of saying what I want to without them, so ⚠️ Beware! Spoilers ahead! Read on at your own risk! ⚠️

I’m not sure who writes blurbs for kid’s books these days but The River Keepers was not the book I was expecting it to be when I first read the blurb. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing as I was entertained by this book and expect it to be well received by its target audience, but I found I spent time trying to reconcile my expectations with reality. I thought there’d be more focus on sci fi, fantasy and magic and I definitely didn’t expect the environmentalism message.

In The River Keepers we meet 11 year old twins Natasha and Reagan, their younger sister Penny and their parents. Their father is a writer and their mother is a nutritionist. The family home is for sale and neither twin want to move house or school, and don’t understand why they’re moving in the first place. The twins plan to sabotage the sale of the property.

After lightning destroys the iconic oak tree in their farmhouse’s yard, the twins discover that the oak is hollow inside and has been the home of a gnome. They find a scroll on the table in the home and gold globs (“gnome guts”) that feel like putty inside the gnome when they accidentally fling him across the yard and break him. I’m not quite sure why one of them has no problem pocketing the gnome’s guts yet they have a problem with their father fixing and painting the dead gnome.

I won’t give away any of the adventures but as you would already know from the blurb, the sisters transform into various animals throughout the book. There’s information about ecosystems and a great message that anyone, including kids, can take action to make positive changes in their local environment.

The twins walk to school with friends Maya and Oscar (and I had the Oscar Mayer jingle in my head each time this pair were mentioned) and the twins end up roping them into their plan to steal and free all of the neighbourhood’s zombie gnome slaves. I wasn’t sure why Natasha wrote in her letter that there was a fee of $9.99. If she was all about freeing the gnomes, why add a charge? The gnome activism reminded me so much of Hermione’s Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW).

I enjoyed the adventures when any of the sisters transformed into animals and experienced the world as each animal did. This is what I thought I’d signed up for and I would’ve loved for these scenes to be longer and for more animals to have needed their help. I wondered what happened to their clothes when they transformed into animals as they are naked when they transform back into humans. I expected for the 11 year old to be embarrassed to be found naked in the kitchen in the middle of the night by her parents, especially her father, but I didn’t detect that she felt uncomfortable about this at all.

I wasn’t a fan of the book’s use of the word ‘nutso’. I understand that it’s slang but I personally don’t like the word, especially when it’s used to describe people. I also wasn’t a fan of the mouse death scene or the battle to the death between one of the sisters and a centipede.

I liked the writing style and found the book easy to read. I’m unsure if this book has a planned sequel or not but the ending felt abrupt. So, here’s the section of the review where you tell me I read too much into a book that’s aimed for a middle school audience (if you haven’t already), but I’ve always been a prolific question asker so I most likely would’ve had similar questions had I read this book as a child.

While it’s implied that the end of the story is only the beginning of the twin’s adventures, I never found out if the family did end up moving house and if so, where they went. If they moved, did the girls pass on their gnomishness to their friends? As the twins had realised that their younger sister was indeed trustworthy with important secrets, why was she not included in the decision the twins made near the end?

Did the friends continue to steal the gnomes in their neigbourhood and if so did they get caught, as Natasha clearly broadcasted her intent with the letters she wrote to gnome enslavers and the police have already asked about the missing gnomes. Did they ever get in touch with the Gnome Freedom Fighters (GFF) who made the gnome slavery video on the internet and has a hashtag something like #freethegnome gone viral? Were all of the stolen gnomes zombies or were some just statues?

Thank you so much to NetGalley and The Publishing House for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What would you do if your sister turned into a skunk?

How about a mouse? Or a frog? Would you want to be a snake?

Have you ever wished to swim like an actual fish? Wouldn’t you worry that a snapping turtle might take a bite out of you?

In The River Keepers, two sisters must rise to meet an unexpected challenge. It’s a story infused with the magic and drama outside their backdoor -perhaps yours, too.

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