29. Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
Publication: Puffin (October 13, 2003), Paperback, 304pp / ISBN 9780142501849
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Rating: Buy it
Read: March 26, 2011
Summary from Amazon:
Accompanied by Miss Minton, a fierce-looking, no-nonsense governess, Maia, a young orphan, sets off for the wilderness of the Amazon, expecting curtains of orchids, brightly colored macaws, and a loving family. But what she finds is an evil-tempered aunt and uncle and their spoiled daughters. It is only when she is swept up in a mystery involving a young Indian boy, a homesick child actor, and a missing inheritance that Maia lands in the middle of the Amazon adventure she’s dreamed of.
The previous Eva Ibbotson books I’ve read were two of her for-younger-readers fantasy books, and while I enjoyed them I wasn’t overly wowed by them. Perhaps I’m just too blinded by Diana Wynne Jones’ childrens fantasy books, but I basically had an idea that Eva Ibbotson was a subpar DWJ. Luckily that prejudice didn’t keep me from branching out into some of EI’s other books, as she didn’t only write fantasy and, as it turns out, I really effing love her other books.
Journey to the River Sea has two things going for it that the other EI books I read didn’t: first, it’s a historical fiction book instead of a fantasy, and second, because it’s not a fantasy I didn’t compare it to DWJ’s books (as I do with basically every other YA fantasy book, I should say). But most importantly: it’s just a really good book!
Perhaps because it was written for a slightly older audience than Which Witch? or The Secret of Platform 13 I connected with it more, but I also just think it’s got really good writing and fabulous characters. I adore Maia; I think she’s a fantastic heroine and if I was still 12 years old she would have been one of my childrens book heroines along with Harriet M. Welch and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
It’s not that she’s a physically ass-kicking heroine. Childrens books don’t always need heroines that can beat up adults and outsmart international spies and blow up a bank (although that’s fun to read about sometimes). Books also need heroines that have strong emotional/moral centers, who are kind and friendly and who aren’t afraid to take risks if they think it’s the right thing to do. Maia is one of those kinds of heroines, and as a bonus she never falls into the “saintly orphan” trap. She always seems like a real person, as do her closest friends– although the villains are somewhat less realistic.
Journey to the River Sea has firmly kicked up my Eva Ibbotson appreciation, and I’m definitely going to keep reading through her bibliography. I may skip over the fantasy books, but I’m going to grab hold of the other books like they were going out of style.