Tears of the River


Author: Gordon Rottman

Publication: 2014, Taliesin Publishing

Pages: 156

Overall Rating:bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Karen is part of a medical relief mission in Nicaragua. While her parents stay on to work in a local hospital, Karen joins a small team headed to an isolated village. But a hurricane blows through, triggering a massive mud slide and knocking out the bridge that connects the village to the outside world. Most of Karen’s companions are dead, along with almost everyone in the village. She finds herself trapped in the wild, responsible for leading a small band of injured, mismatched survivors to safety.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Rottman provides a wonderfully detailed picture of life in rural Nicaragua. As Karen and her companions trudge through the wilderness, float down an endless river, and encounter storms, log jams, and half-starved survivors, the beautiful yet harsh realities of life in a place like Nicaragua jump off the page in vivid detail. After finishing, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been to the country yourself.

Rottman is a former Green Beret, and in addition to the vivid scenery he also brings his in-depth knowledge of survival skills to bear on the story. It’s almost like having a rudimentary wilderness survival guide woven through the pages of the book. Among other things, you’ll learn the basics of how to start a fire with a magnifying glass, make a charcoal water filter, plug a hole in a wooden boat using pine resin and duct tape, and build a shelter using nothing but branches and leaves.

What I Liked the Least: As great as the survival information was, there were times during the first half of the book where it felt like Karen was just too good. She knew so much and made so few mistakes that I wasn’t worried for her survival. That all changed as the story went on, as Karen got more exhausted and the challenges piled up. But I can’t help wishing she’d screwed up a bit more early on.

Rottman makes some attempts to balance Karen’s considerable trail skills by building a backstory about her feelings of inadequacy as a leader and her uncertainty over what she wants to do with her life. But next to the disaster she finds herself in, those concerns felt petty and somewhat crudely constructed. It made Karen seem like a whiner, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. And I found myself wishing Rottman had dropped the attempt at backstory all-together and just let the disaster unfold – let Karen make a few small but crucial mistakes early on to highlight her sense of inadequacy rather than falling back on some story about a bad leadership review in a survival skills course.

My final complaint was with the writing, which felt a bit rough – too much passive language, too wordy, sentences that sometimes seemed out of place in their paragraph. Rottman’s skills as a writer do shine through in places – especially when describing survival techniques or in the heat of action – but the book as a whole could have done with a fair bit of polishing.

How Good was the Action? The latter half of the book in particular has a number of very intense scenes as Karen maneuvers their boat through churning rapids, fights off rabid dogs, escapes from a band of starving refugees, and falls overboard in heavy current. And Rottman does a damn fine job with them, finding just the right balance between intense activity and adrenaline-fueled emotion. The scenes rocket along, with enough energy to really get your blood pumping.

How Engaging was the Story? As you might have guessed, I found the first half of the book a little hard to get through. But as their situation grew steadily more desperate, the attempts at backstory fell away and Karen began making real mistakes. And with each mistake she became less of a super girl and more of a fully rounded character, until it got to the point where I couldn’t put the book down. So persevere, the end result is well worth the effort

Overall Assessment: The writing might be a bit rough, with some fairly crude attempts at backstory, but there’s a great tale here, brimming over with intense action, wonderfully vivid scenery that throws you right into the heart of Nicaragua, and crash course in wilderness survival. For survival book junkies this might prove a hard one to resist.

Profanity: None.

Sex: A chaste kiss.

Violence: Minimal. There are a couple of brief, intense fights, but no blood. That said, there are plenty of injuries, maggot filled wounds, dead bodies, and one very detailed scene where Karen has to suture up a bloody gash in her thigh.

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