Tina Sears' debut novel, The River's Edge, is the kind of story that will bring readers to the edge of something real. Following the protagonist, Chris Morgan, during the summer of 1976, this novel is at times bright with the beauty of first love, friendship, and family, while maintaining a sense of secretive danger, which is compelling.
While the beginning of the novel introduces young adult readers to a time they may not know, Sears has painted such a realistic picture of summer in the 70s that may juxtapose the experiences of readers. But through these differences of time and place there is still the beautiful, but untouchable mean girl (Julie), the sweet boy next door (Reds), and a cast of other characters who offer a sense of escape for Chris as the summer carries on. Stakes are set high, because Chris must hide a dangerous secret from both family and friends.
Tina Sears brings readers to the edge of childhood innocence and takes them across the line into the brutality of sexual assault. Such is handled with tact and care. In the vein of Ellen Hopkins, this debut author tackles topics which (still) too often appear as taboo within the YA literary world. Sears is unafraid to show the monsters in real life, but does so with careful consideration for her main character, Chris. This is not the kind of book that is gratuitous by any means, yet it shows just enough of the disturbing side of family secrets and sexual assault to convince the reader that Chris's fear is justified throughout the story.
Life continues on even as tragedy happens, just as it does in the real world beyond these pages. Chris's parents are struggling with the idea of divorce back home, her mother on the verge of her own darkness and depression. And then there is Reds, who is such a welcomed breath of innocence in a story that loses such to the act of violence.
Throughout this summer of dance marathons and underage drinking, falling in love, and drowning in darkness, there is the river. The unpredictable way it flows forward, waters raging, serves as a sort of metaphor within the story. Chris's life becomes unpredictable, her own self raging at the fact that something has been stolen by someone she trusts. And we learn what has been taken can't be given back.
Despite the realization of what sexual assault takes from a person, especially one so young, there is also the revelation that there is bravery in overcoming such scars:
"We all have our scars to carry with us. Scars are a sign of bravery."
Throughout the course of this stark and authentic narration told from Chris's first person point of view, the reader grows closer to the urgency and terror that she feels, which only pushes the story forward at a fast-paced speed. While the content may disturb, readers will need to know that Chris is going to be okay.
This is the kind of novel that offers an extra element of poignancy because of the times in which it is told. Without cell phones and other such technology there is the added element of isolation that takes Chris on the path to awakening. Such seems to be understood by the author and used as a tool to bring a story of this caliber to light.
Perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins, this novel is one filled with sweetness and sensibility, terror, truth, and above all else, bravery, and love. Chris is the kind of character who can help victims of similar situations to feel connected, while also bringing empathy to readers who may not understand such horrors.
The River's Edge is a haunting novel, which resonates long after the last page. Tina Sears is an author to watch in the future for further works that will contribute the same catharsis to our ever-darkening world.