River Rats is set in 1940s rural Missouri, with World War II about to shatter lives forever. The story is told in the authentic voice of 12 year old Kenny, who roams the countryside with his older brother and friends, hanging out together in the bottoms of the Chariton River. Trouble comes with the arrival of a new boy, Henry Nichols, who is "a thin stick of a person, looking like a half-starved hound...and not like us."
Can he join the River Rats? Kenny's big brother, Jim, is a bully and tries everything he can to humiliate and hurt the newcomer, who is so poor he doesn't even go to school. Kenny has to risk losing the friendship of his own brother by doing what, deep down, he knows is right. In the midst of the rough and tumble of the boys' day to day lives, the story tackles head-on the dilemmas and choices about loyalty, friendship, and right and wrong.
Author Leslie J. Wyatt learned first hand from someone who grew up in the Chariton River bottoms. "Listening to his stories was like stepping into a bygone age. I began to wish I could capture them for my children and all the other children in the world who would never get to live that life."