Alistair Cleary is the kid who everyone trusts. Fiona Loomis is not the typical girl next door. Alistair hasn't really thought of her since they were little kids until she shows up at his doorstep with a proposition: she wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into the mind of a potentially troubled girl. Fiona says that in her basement, there's a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona's soul could be next. If Fiona really believes what she's saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it's true, her life could be at risk. In this novel from Aaron Starmer, it's up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality.
Starmer (The Only Ones) explores the relationship between creation and theft, reality and fantasy in this haunting novel, narrated retrospectively by Alistair Cleary as he looks back at the autumn of 1989. It's then that a classmate, Fiona Loomis, invites him to write her biography. After 12-year-old Alistair tentatively agrees, Fiona tells him about her repeated trips to a land called Aquavania (via a cylinder of water in her house's boiler), where she and other children can shape reality as they choose. Alistair is understandably skeptical, believing that Fiona has invented this fantasy to cope with some kind of trauma, but the novel's strength is in the pervasive aura of unknowing that Starmer creates and sustains. Is Fiona's uncle a scarred veteran or a menace? Is the Riverman hunting down Aquavania's residents responsible for the disappearance of children in the real world? Starmer makes the possibilities presented by Fiona's stories feel no less improbable (or unsettling) than the scenarios Alistair constructs to explain them away, or the actions he takes in an attempt to protect her. Ages 10 14.