Book review

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson (2001)

Do you fancy a thousand-mile trip up the Amazon River? Exploring? What do you think it would be like?

'There are huge crocodiles in the rivers that can snap your head off in one bite. Only they're not called crocodiles, they're called alligators because their snouts are fatter, but they're just as fierce.'
'And if you just put one hand in the water there are these piranhas that strip all the flesh off your bones. Every single bit. They look just like ordinary fish but their teeth are terrible,' said Melanie.
Daisy offered a mosquito which bit you and gave you yellow fever. 'You turn as yellow as a lemon and then you die,' she said.
'And it's so hot the sweat absolutely runs off you in buckets.'
'Not sweat, dear, perspiration,' corrected Miss Carlisle.

Fortunately, Maia isn't put off by the gruesome descriptions offered by her classmates, because Maia is the one who is making the journey. She is travelling to Manaus to join her only living relatives, after the devastating loss of her parents in a terrible train accident.

She doesn't have to travel alone though. She is accompanied by her new governess, Miss Minton:

Miss Minton was certainly a most extraordinary-looking person. Her eyes, behind thick, dark-rimmed spectacles, were the colour of mud, her mouth was narrow, her nose thin and sharp and her black felt hat was tethered to her sparse bun of hair with a fearsome hat pin in the shape of a Viking spear.
'It's copied from the armour of Eric the Hammerer,' said Miss Minton, following Maia's gaze. 'One can kill with a hatpin like that.'

When she arrives in the Brazilian jungle, Maia finds she must tread carefully, but it's nothing to do with the plentiful insect life. Her sweetly dressed cousins are venomous, and her aunt and uncle avaricious. But the formidable Miss Minton is a staunch ally, and the Indian servants are loyal and loving. Maia also makes plenty of friends among the European children who live in Manaus, but none so close as the mysterious Finn Taverner, half Indian half European.

As Maia begins to see the jungle through Finn's eyes, she perceives its beauty. So she understands why Finn cannot leave when he is called back to Europe. Finn isn't going anywhere, and neither, it seems, is Maia. Or Miss Minton, for that matter ...

I loved this story. If you enjoy adventures, safe in the knowledge that everything is going to turn out perfectly in the end, then this is the book for you. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

Eva Ibbotson has written other books. You might like to look at this one:

  • The Secret of Platform 13

There are plenty of references to Little Lord Fauntleroy in Journey to the River Sea. Little Lord Fauntleroy is a book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Maia herself is also rather like the main character in another book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, called A Little Princess. If you enjoy Journey to the River Sea, I think you might also enjoy any of these books:

If you love exploring strange, far-off lands, I think you will be thrilled by this story by Geraldine McCaughrean:

If you are looking for a book with a slightly old-fashioned feel to it, I think you might enjoy this rather puzzling story by Joan G Robinson:

Or you could try this gentle classic surprise love story by Jean Webster:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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