River’s Reach – Coming of Age Amid the Fish War by David Scott Richardson

River’s Reach – Coming of Age Amid the Fish War by David Scott Richardson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

ADVENTURE. HISTORY. AWAKENING. Life is good for high school senior Alex Haugen. He has a group of buddies to fish the Nisqually River with, his membership on the football team guarantees status with his peers, and he’s recently set his sights on Amanda Schneider – an engaging blend of brains, beauty, and personality. He’s beginning to think that the lead cheerleader and star lineman go together like burgers and fries.

Learning that his dad participated in the latest fishing raid at Frank’s Landing, Alex’s curiosity is piqued. The more he reads, the more he realizes how little he knows about the deep-rooted conflict between the Washington State Game Department and local tribes. The state claims the right to enforce conservation measures and the tribes claim that their treaty rights supersede state regulations.

Alex has strong convictions about conservation but wonders if there’s more to the story. Indian netting can’t be the only reason fish are in decline. Strident and entrenched certainties dominate both sides of the fishing controversy, and Alex begins to resent that a side may have been chosen for him at birth.

Chancing conflict with his dad – an officer with the game department – Alex’s quest for understanding rouses discovery of his own voice and the courage to stand apart from his parents and peers. Along the way, he befriends Charlie McCallister, a Nisqually Indian his dad arrested in a raid.

Amanda, whose mom does pro bono work for the tribe, is a social justice warrior at heart. As the fish war heats up, her readiness to support the tribe clashes with Alex’s reluctance to rock the boat with his father and threatens to drive a wedge in their blossoming romance.

Charlie, Amanda, and the Nisqually River form the key catalysts for Alex’s awakening as the story unfolds against the backdrop of a nation gripped by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the seismic tunes of rock ‘n roll.

Sometimes change is painfully slow.

The last year or two of high school can be such an exciting and restless time in life. Soon classes will end and everyone will go their separate ways in life. This was a quieter portion of the storyline in the beginning, but it grew more and more enjoyable and meaningful as Alex and his friends inched closer towards graduation and the many different paths they all would take. Mr. Richardson captured this stage in life nicely, and it has made me curious to see what else he may write in the future.

I struggled with the slow pacing of this novel. Most of the plot and character development was released gradually and between scenes that didn’t always seem to push anything forward. As interesting as the descriptions of nature and the small town setting were, there were so many of them that they were distracting for me as a reader as well. In my opinion, this would have been a stronger story if some of those scenes were trimmed down to either shorten the length of this in general or to provide more space for action scenes.

Racism is a complex topic, especially for teens like Alex who hadn’t spent much time thinking about how race can impact everything from how a student is treated by his or her peers to what sorts of jobs someone might be encouraged or discouraged to apply for. The historical setting amplified these themes as well given that societal expectations of what should and shouldn’t be said about race can shift a lot from one decade to the next. I appreciated how much effort the author put into developing this portion of the plot and showing how even a kind and sensitive kid like Alex can still have misconceptions about race and culture.

River’s Reach – Coming of Age Amid the Fish War was a thought-provoking read.

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