Summary and book reviews of The River King by Alice Hoffman

The River King

By Alice Hoffman

The River King
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2000,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2001,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

For more than a century, the small town of Haddan, Massachusetts, has been divided, as if by a line drawn down the center of Main Street, separating those born and bred in the village from those who attend the prestigious Haddan School. But one October night the two worlds are thrust together due to an inexplicable death, and the town's divided history is revealed in all its complexity. The lives of everyone involved are unraveled: from Carlin Leander, the fifteen-year-old girl who is as loyal as she is proud, to Betsy Chase, a woman running from her own destiny; from August Pierce, a boy who unexpectedly finds courage in his darkest hour, to Abel Grey, the police officer who refuses to let unspeakable actions--both past and present--slide by without notice.

Entertainment Weekly has declared that Alice Hoffman's worlds are "replete with miracles" and The Boston Globe has praised her "iridescent prose, taut narrative suspense, and alluring atmosphere." Now she brings us a novel as compelling as it is daring, an exploration of forgiveness and hope, a wondrous tale of innocence and evil, and of the secrets we keep.

The Iron Box

The Haddan School was built in 1858 on the sloping banks of the Haddan River, a muddy and precarious location that had proven disastrous from the start. That very first year, when the whole town smelled of cedar shavings, there was a storm of enormous proportions, with winds so strong that dozens of fish were drawn up from the reedy shallows, then lifted above the village in a shining cloud of scales. Torrents of water fell from the sky, and by morning the river had overflowed, leaving the school's freshly painted white clapboard buildings adrift in a murky sea of duckweed and algae.

For weeks, students were ferried to classes in rowboats; catfish swam through flooded perennial gardens, observing the disaster with cool, glassy eyes. Every evening, at twilight, the school cook balanced on a second-story window ledge, then cast out his rod to catch dozens of silver trout, a species found only in the currents of the Haddan River, a sweet, fleshy variety that was ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  1. Hoffman dedicates much of the novel to describing The Haddan School campus in detail. In what ways do the School's physical descriptions mirror actual events in the novel? Is Hoffman's description of the Chalk House foreboding for its inhabitants?

  2. The line between past and present, living and dead, is often blurred in the story, creating a mystical, haunting atmosphere in which anything seems possible. How does Annie Howe "live on" at the Haddan School? What mystical or supernatural qualities did Annie Howe display while she was alive? Are there any ghosts in the novel, and if so, how do these ghosts from the past inform the state of things in the present?

  3. How are Carlin Leander and August Pierce different from ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publisher Weekly

[E]nchanting her readers with a many-layered morality tale and proving herself once again inventive author with a distinctive touch.

Library Journal

The novel, with its young protagonists and pining romance between Betsy and Abel, straddles the line between young adult and women's fiction. One wishes Hoffman had pared down the precious local descriptions and allowed the plot, which has some unexpected twists, to shine through.

The Washington Post Book World

Alice Hoffman is, was, and always will be, a beautiful writer.

USA Today

Spellbinding. Hoffman opens old wounds and inflicts new ones in this evocative mystery of innocence transgressed and evil expelled.

The New York Times Book Review

It can be hard to find an example of good old-fashioned storytelling these days, but storytelling, refreshingly, is Alice Hoffman's strength.

Reader Reviews
Cindy E.

Gripping story
Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite author and this is my favorite of all her novels. It mixes up mystery, romance, and the underlying element of hazing. It keeps one's attention throughout, and will not disappoint.

ELLEN

Spellbinding. Hoffman is a master story teller. The River King establishes an atmosphere through Hoffman's fine detail of the Mass. town where the story takes place. She then interrelates two different plots that hold your attention through there ...   Read More

Brett

Although this book was unmatched in its display of feelings and emotion but it was so incredibly slow moving that i hardly got to the end, which did not complement the excellence of the rest of the novel.

Anonymous

I think this is the best book, I had read in a long time, it held my interest from start to finish. I am a mature female but believe this book would appeal to all age groups.

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