Eva Ibbotson,
Journey to the River Sea,
illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Dutton, 2002)

Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea distills the best of E. Nesbit, Joan Aiken and Roald Dahl into a splendid adventure featuring a plucky young heroine and her remarkable governess.

Maia is an orphan, but fortunately, her parents' estate left her with more than adequate means, and she boards at a pleasant school. One day, she receives word that some relatives have been located, and they are willing to have Maia come live with them. The news excites Maia, because the Carters, her relatives, live on a rubber plantation in Brazil. Maia finds her new governess, Miss Minton, a bit daunting, but not enough to dampen her enthusiasm for her new adventure.

On the voyage over, Maia discovers that Miss Minton is a better companion than she expected. She also meets Clovis, a young member of a traveling theater company who is terrified of his voice changing since he specializes in characters such as Little Lord Fauntleroy. He fears, quite justifiably, that the company will abandon him if he can no longer play his parts.

Her relatives turn out to be a disappointment. Mr. Carter lurks in his study, mulling over his unusual hobby while Mrs. Carter obsesses over killing insects. Their twin daughters, with whom Maia had hoped to be friends, turn out to be nasty, greedy and selfish.

In spite of her relatives' denial of all things Brazilian, Maia loves the jungle, the river and all the people she meets. Miss Minton's seemingly bottomless steamer trunk of books also helps sustain her. It is true that the twins and their parents do their best to make Maia miserable, but their hatefulness is more than offset by the friendly people she and Miss Minton meet.

Then two detectives from England arrive in search of Finn, the son of a British naturalist who died a few months previously. Maia wonders whether there is an connection between Finn and the strange Indian boy she encountered in the forest. As the truth unfolds, Maia, Miss Minton and their new friends are caught up in an adventure as big as the Amazon and as tangled as the jungle.

As always, Ibbotson's characters are delightfully drawn with little restraint, although her villains aren't quite as over the top as those of Roald Dahl. They are not so much loathsome as they are pathetic, and to be sure, karma catches up with them.

The plot is fast moving and involves the reader right away. The suspense runs high all the way through the story, but the secondary theme running under the adventure seems to be that no matter where you were raised, sometime you come to a new and strange place that you know is "home."

Journey to the River Sea begs to be read aloud to all ages, and the book stands as evidence that Eva Ibbotson ranks with the best of children's authors.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 27 July 2002

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