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Death on the River Paperback – October 1, 2009
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"This riveting look at the Civil War's horrifying Andersonville prison through the eyes of an 18-year-old inmate has the power to shock and to compel young readers' interest while uncovering exciting history for them. Wilson doesn't shove the history down his readers' throats. He merely writes a tension-filled story packed with appalling events that really happened...This engrossing novel leaves an enduring impression." (Kirkus Reviews 2009-09-15)
"Teen fiction rarely gets so involved with notions of morality in war, and this is a thoughtful, provocative work." (Booklist 2009-10-15)
"This historical coming-of-age novel is so filled with adventure that it might very well lead its young readers to search for more books on the American Civil War… Here's hoping that books like Death on the River help spawn a new generation of amateur historians." (Book Chase blog 2009-10-12)
"The strength of the novel is in Wilson's descriptions of both the moral and physical filth found at the prison camp. Readers feel Jake's disgust and fear." (School Library Journal 2009-11-01)
"John Wilson has crafted a compelling story that seamlessly incorporates a number of key events in American history… This sense of connection with the past that Wilson's story inspires is one of the novel's strongest features. Recommended." (CM Magazine 2009-09-11)
"[An] engrossing, vivid and even horrifying read that cannons into the United States' bloody 1860s… Offer[s] some startlingly resonant moments for his adolescent audience." (The Globe and Mail 2009-11-21)
"[Wilson] does a great job. In fact, sometimes in Death on the River if anything it's too good an illumination. Though he (thankfully) brings little of the actual gore, we feel the horrors of war very keenly. It's a lesson it's always good to remember: one we are not able to forget." (January Magazine 2009-11-06)
"Jake is a believable protagonist who matures and gains integrity by the end of the story. Perfect for reluctant readers needing a historical fiction or a novel set in the Civil War era." (VOYA 2009-12-01)
"[Wilson] has captured the struggles of young soldiers faced with making impossible choices in order to survive in war…Wilson's gripping descriptions of bloody battles, abominable prison conditions, and man's inhumanity to man will capture the imagination of readers wanting to know more about the American Civil War." (Resource Links 2009-10-01)
"The story does a good job of illustrating the realities of war and accurate historical details. Recommended." (Library Media Connection 2010-01-01)
"Wilson paints an engrossing picture of the brutal life of these soldiers...Most young readers, especially boys, will be fascinated by Jakes' adventure, and will likely find it shocking to learn that anyone could endure such hell." (Quill & Quire 2009-10-01)
"Wilson dramatically reveals the difficult choices Jake must make to survive." (The Horn Book Guide 2010-04-01)
"This book does a great job of depicting the horrors of war…The accuracy of the story is amazing, the characters are well-developed, and the plot is engaging. Readers who like historical fiction, war stories, and survival books will all enjoy reading Death on the River." (TeensReadToo.com 2010-08-15)
"A well-written book that will provide the reader with an understanding [and] insight into the perils of war. The author did a fantastic job of relating the cruelties of war without making it gruesome for young readers...Recommended." (Tri State Young Adult Book Review Committee 2010-01-01)
"Provides a vivid picture of the horrors of the Andersonville prison camp." (Washington State YA Review 2010-03-01)
"Illustrates very well that under circumstances like these, there are no easy, "good" choices, and it avoids casting "good" and "bad" around North/South lines...The depiction of the harsh life of a prison camp is accurate and worth a read." (CCYAB Book Notes 2010-03-02)
From the Back Cover
The War between the States has only been over for two months, and the roads and rivers are clogged with men traveling in all directions. Most of them will make it home one way or another. That's the easy part. It's what you bring home inside your head that's the problem. Captured and confined to the confederate prison camp at Andersonville in June 1864, young Jake Clay forms an unlikely alliance with Billy Sharp, an unscrupulous opportunist who teaches him to survive no matter what the cost. By war's end Jake is haunted by the ghosts of those who've died so he could live. Now his fateful journey home will come closer to killing him than Andersonville did, but it will also provide him with one last chance at redemption.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is a dark, merciless book which shows one side of war, its heinous toll on life, the bloody injured victims and those people whose characters will let them take advantage of the less fortunate in any situation. The story is that of a just turned 18 year-old, Jake Clay, who joins the Union Army because his brother whom he looked up to was killed in the war. Fresh in uniform he is involved in a battle in which he is taken POW and sent to the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, one of the worst in history. Thus the story goes on to tell the tale of the prison inmates and daily life, through the eyes of young Jake, as he is taken under wing of an immoral Billy Sharp who knows how to survive at any cost.
A page-turning story and almost too horrible to believe it is based on truth. The author pulls no punches and there are many brutal, disturbing scenes. Though the author does write them in a stark matter-of-fact way without becoming needlessly gruesome in the details. They are true to life and there is one scene in particular that I don't think I'll ever forget. Jake is a realistic character and one who not only suffers physically but also suffers with his morals and that he cannot always remain humane in an inhumane world.
Certainly a unique Civil War story for teens, told through the eyes of a POW. The publisher's recommended age is 12+, however I don't agree with that. I think the book is more appropriate for older teens. Along with all the violence I've mentioned, the protagonist is 18 years old, and the language includes continuous use of the sh- word, along with every conceivable rendition of taking the Lord's name in vain I ever thought possible. For older teens and grown-ups who like to read YA, I heartily recommend the book for an eye-opening look into a nasty piece of US history.
It is the first taste of battle for Jake Clay and, as big a shock as battle is, he is about to get an even bigger one when he arrives at the Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia. Naïve young man that he is, Jake soon finds himself giving William Collins all the cash he has in exchange for promised protection that will help ensure his survival despite the horrible living conditions of the prison camp. Collins, a former big city street thug, is the self-appointed leader of what he calls Mosby's Raiders, criminals who kill and steal from their fellow prisoners at will.
Jake Clay entered Andersonville Prison an innocent boy with high expectations of himself but, by the time he left the camp, he had condoned behavior that shamed him. He might be barely alive, but to stay out of the Andersonville cemetery he had done things, or allowed them to be done on his behalf, that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Little did Jake know that his journey home at the end of the war would offer him a final chance at redemption - an opportunity that would almost kill him in the process.
"Death on the River," aimed at the Teen Market, offers a realistic look at Civil War fighting and the horrors of Andersonville Prison without over-focusing on the gory details. Jake Clay is a Union Army volunteer primarily because his older brother has already been lost in battle and Jake wants to honor his brother's memory. Jake, though, like most soldiers of the period, has little idea what he is getting himself into as his first battle approaches and, like so many others, his first fight will be his last.
This historical coming-of-age novel is so filled with adventure that it might very well lead its young readers to search for more books on the American Civil War, much as I did at that age after I read "Red Badge of Courage" for the first time. Several decades later, I still find myself drawn to Civil War fiction, new histories of the war, and biographies of those who played a role in it. Here's hoping that books like "Death on the River" help spawn a new generation of amateur historians who will move on to Civil War fiction classics such as MacKinlay Kantor's "Andersonville," winner of the 1956 Pulitzer Prize, or Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels," another Pulitzer winner (1975).
Taken down in a bloody battle, he's sent off to Andersonville, Georgia, one of the worst prison camps in recorded history. When a soldier without any moral sense befriends Jake, he's flattered, and desperation drives him to turn a blind eye when the man murders, lies, and steals to survive.
When the end of the war grants the prisoners release, Jake is boarded onto an overloaded riverboat going up the Mississippi River. When an engine blows up and everyone is pitched into the river, Jake will have to choose: morality or survival?
Will Jake be able to survive the journey, help others, and save his soul from going down the same dangerous path as that of the Andersonville soldier?
This book does a great job of depicting the horrors of war. There is a fair amount of language and the violence can be disturbing for younger readers. However, the accuracy of the story is amazing, the characters are well-developed, and the plot is engaging.
Readers who like historical fiction, war stories, and survival books will all enjoy reading DEATH ON THE RIVER.
Reviewed by: Kira M
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history, especially history of the USA.
My rating was based on the ease of the read and the way it kept my attention throughout.