169. Death on the River by John Wilson

Death on the River by John Wilson (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 193
Ages: 15+
Finished: Aug. 18, 2010
First Published: Oct.1, 2009
Publisher: Orca Books
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

I pull back the thin blanket and swing my legs over the edge of the bed.

Acquired: Received a review copy through LibraryThing's Early Review Program.

Reason for Reading: John Wilson is a Canadian author whom I have read a few books of and enjoyed. I also enjoy reading Civil War historical fiction.

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.


  1. Thanks for commenting on my Sleepless review! Death on the River sounds intense and hard to read, but realistic in that it shows the less glorified side of war. I can see why you recommended it only for older YA readers because it does sound pretty brutal!

  2. How interesting that a Canadian author wrote a civil war historical fiction. Though I don't read much historical fic, this one sounds interesting.

  3. Oh John Wilson does write Canadian historical fiction but he also writes everything else. His latest book is set during the Spanish Inquisition, I believe.

  4. Wow this one sounds amazing and nice and gritty and realistic! Definitely am adding this to my list. Thanks for the review!


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