After losing both of his parents in a rafting accident which he survived, a young boy named Eckhart travels on a Greyhound bus bound for East Washington to live with his uncle Albert, who he's never met before. He understands that his uncle is taking him in a trial basis and wonders what he'll have to do to pass the trials - that is, if he finds that he wants to stay there. Though he may not like the environment at first, Eckhart immediately appreciates having a room of his own, and he slowly learns to appreciate the outdoors, thanks in part to his new friend, Eva, whose imagination rivals his own and whose enthusiasm for life and for the canyon challenges him to come out of his shell.
Dia Calhoun's new book After the River the Sun is a companion to her previous verse novel, Eva of the Farm. Readers will recognize Eva immediately as the girl with the silver boots at the bus station. With its easy meter, both reluctant readers and verse novel enthusiasts will speed right through After the River the Sun. Though it is written in third person, the straightforward narrative allows readers right into Eckhart's thoughts.
Music is etched in Eckhart's soul, in his ears, mind, and fingertips: his mother was a violinist, and she began his violin lessons when he was six years old. Now, he doesn't know if he'll ever play again, and seeing her old violin case at his uncle's house makes his heart ache. He initially hides the case because it hurts him too much to look at it and remember what his family used to be.
He slid the case back under the bed
and stood up,
but the song still played in his mind,
the notes shifting into the roar of a river.
Burdened with survivor's guilt, Eckhart buries himself in a video game based on the adventures of Sir Gawain and wishes he, too, could be a knight of the Round Table. He enjoys the game because he allows him to be a hero -- and because if he makes a mistake in the game, he can change it. Characters can get hurt, and he can lose the game, but then he can start the game over again, and everyone is fine, and he can save the day.
Both Eckhart and his uncle are guarded people, and they often only say what they need to say to get through the day, just going through the motions:
A silence fell,
stretching on and on
until it seemed to snarl.
They begin work side-by-side in the dead orchard, clearing stumps and working hard. The task seems overwhelming, but once it becomes a part of Eckhart's daily routine, along with schoolwork, shared meals with his uncle, and conversations with Eva, he grows stronger, both in body and in mind. Memories, challenges, and confessions help him come to terms with what happened that day on the river. After the River the Sun is recommended for ages 10 and up, and would make a great classroom read.
I posted one of my favorite passages from the book for Poetry Friday. Other favorite sections include:
At the end of April
the land work up,
singing a song of color.
Golden sun daisies
covered the hills
like the mantle of some ancient queen
and turned the wheat flat
to a field of gold.
Eva nodded. "Yes, most crossroads
and places of magical aid
can be dangerous,
but that's because they challenge you
to be more than you are."
Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Poetry Friday: Eva of the Farm
Poetry Friday: After the River the Sun
Booklist: Verse Novels
Booklist: Male Protagonists in Juvenile Fiction
Booklist: Male Protagonists in Teen Fiction