I read a lot of books. I read fiction, nonfiction, books for adults, and books for children. I think that age in regards to reading is just a number. (And as I am not very good at numbers, this fits me quite well.) Lately I have been reading a lot of novels intended for children; however, to put an age limit on Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea would be a crime. Eva Ibbotson has written many books with female protagonists. Some of the heroines were beautiful, but boring. Others were too often far too chipper for my taste. However, she is an excellent storyteller with many great novels to her name, and Journey to the River Sea is no exception.
The story begins in 1910 England. Our heroine Maia is a wealthy orphan who is pretty, resourceful, kind, brave, etc.; a fine, if a bit conventional, protagonist. After learning that she does have some family, a set of cousins called the Carters, young Maia leaves her English boarding school and travels to Brazil and down the Amazon River. After finally reaching the Carters, Maia finds them to be failed rubber growers, desperate for the money Maia will bring to the household. The twins Beatrice and Gwendolyn Carter are especially mean and unfriendly towards Maia. They are spiteful and vain, and tease Maia constantly. Despite this, Maia is determined not to become a prisoner in the Carters’ strange household.Though Maia is not allowed, she often sneaks outside the house, spends time with the native people, and explores the rainforest alone, the last one being a very stupid thing to do when you don’t know the area very well.
After getting lost, Maia meets Finn Taverner. Finn is also an orphan. His father was an English naturalist who escaped his aristocratic, but stifling home of Westwood to settle in Brazil. Finn’s late mother was of the mysterious Xanti tribe, which he is desperately trying to find. Maia “falls into friendship” with Finn, and soon joins him on his quest to find his mother’s people. However, it is a dangerous journey, and they face many obstacles along the way. The Amazon has no patience for the unwary.
Each character is unique and interesting in different ways. However, I have yet to mention the best character in the whole novel. Maia’s governess Miss Minton is magnificent. Unattractive, sharp-tongued, and stubborn, she is not the typical female character. Though she is poor, she is very educated and always carries a trunk full of books wherever she goes. She has had many bad experiences with former charges, some of whom were cruel to animals, which has left her a bit bitter. She does come to love Maia, however cross Miss Minton may seem, and only wishes the best for the girl.
I personally love Miss Minton for a few reasons. She is afraid of absolutely nothing, she goes through life doing the best she can, and when it is not to her taste, she is not afraid to leave or change things. She always stands for what is just and right, and is fiercely loyal to her friends. She says what’s on her mind, but is intelligent enough to know when it is better to be silent. She is a remarkable woman. Also when she is offered marriage by her kind friend Professor Neville Glastonberry, the local Natural History Museum curator, she declines, saying that she “wouldn’t be very good at being married”. This is a surprise, considering most novels involving two unmarried adults that become acquainted often become romantically involved, usually resulting in marriage. It was refreshing to read a novel in which that didn’t happen.
In the end, there is far more to the novel than what I have mentioned. The descriptions of the scenery and wildlife of Brazil, and especially of the Amazon River (locally called the River Sea) made me want to go on my own journey and discover new things. Good novels entertain, but great novels make readers want to go on an adventure. This is a great novel, and I highly recommend it for all ages.