Title: Trouble RiverTrouble River
Author: Betsy Byars
Pages: 106
Recommended Ages: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

I wasn’t all that enraptured by Betsy Byars’ book The Summer of the Swans. But that picture of the little old lady sitting on a rocking chair, which is balancing on a raft, while floating down a river knitting…… Yeah. That appealed to me.  And the story itself proved to be just as quaint.

The Story.

Grandmother is determined that Indians are lurking about, plotting to attack the house. And she didn’t come all of this way to be killed by Indians. They must do something. But Mr. Martin, her son, is away and all that’s left with her are her grandson, Dewey and his no-account dog, Charlie who is always trying to upset her on the path. What can they possibly do to escape?

Dewey is unconvinced that there are Indians lurking about. Unconvinced until he catches one trying to break into the house, that is. Then he immediately jumps into action. They can never hope to escape on foot. The only way to make it is down the river on the raft that he just completed. It’s a rickety little thing, and it takes an awful lot of convincing just to get Grandmother onto the raft. Now the question is, can the raft get them down the river?

Cautions.

Dewey’s relationship with his grandmother is quite singular; they spend most of their time bantering with each other. He displays no rebellion other than disobeying her once. Grandma is a bit of a grumbler; she’s always expecting the worst and expresses herself freely. It’s almost as though she expects and wants Dewey to disagree with her at times so that she will have more opportunity to express her opinions. Here’s an example of their interaction.

“What was you doing down at the river?”

“Nothing.”

She pointed at him with her cane and touched him on the shoulder with it so that he looked up at her. “I mean to know what you been doing down there every day,” she said firmly.

“I said I was making something.”

“All right then, what was you making?”

The boy laid  down his rumpled head on the dog. “I’m making me a sort of boat,” he said finally in a low voice.

“A boat? A boat?” she said. “I’d like to know where you’re going in a boat!”

“Nowhere, I reckon. Just out on Trouble River. Anyway, it’s more like a raft than a—“

“Trouble River,” she said. Her disgust was plain. “That ain’t no river. Wouldn’t a fish be caught dead in that yellow water.” She snorted. “A half mile wide and a half foot deep, that ain’t no river. Why, I’d as soon eat mud as drink water from it.” She leaned forward. Her finger, pointing at him, trembled slightly. “You can’t even swim in it for the quicksand. I heard your pa say so.”

“It’s good enough for a raft.”

“It ain’t good for nothing. Nothing! It ain’t even good for getting across. Whole wagons have gone down in quicksand trying to get across, I’ve heard tell.”

“Not whole wagons, Grandma.”

“That’s what I’ve heard tell,” she said stubbornly. “It’ll suck the legs right off a horse.” She leaned back in her chair. “That’s how it come to be named Trouble River.”

“It was named by some settlers who tried to cross after a heavy rain and lost their wagon. Pa said so.”

“Well, anyway, you got no right to be out there making a boat when you got chores. All the things around here that need fixing, and you playing at making a boat. I never!” [pgs. 5-6]

Rather than Dewey being the unreasonable one, it seems that he rather moderates his Grandmother’s eccentricities. Their relationship is definitely strengthened by the end of the story, and she even concedes that his boat was a good idea.

“You folks come forty miles down Trouble River?” the man asked with respect. “You and the boy took the rapids on them logs?”

“We did. My grandson made that raft himself, young man, and a fine craft it was. I didn’t think too much of it when I first seen it but it worked out fine.”

Dewey felt tears sting in his eyes at this unexpected praise. He could not speak. [pg. 101]

Grandmother says she gets ‘feelings’ whenever something bad is going to happen. She also insists that if a screech owl hoots it means someone is going to die. Dewey doesn’t buy it.

On page 41, Dewey thinks very briefly of a ghost story he’s heard.

Charlie is wounded in one scene – not very badly, but it might cause tender-hearted children to be a bit sad.

Conclusion. A sweet, funny story. It’s not as adventure-packed as you might think from the setting, but it is enjoyable, nonetheless.

Review © 2012 Laura Verret

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