Journey to the River Sea was one of my favourite books as a child. I still have the old battered copy that I bought at a school book fair. When I knew this book was going to be a thing, I decided I was going to reread the first book and then the new one. When I was lucky enough to get an e-arc through NetGalley, I put both on my TBR and read them back to back.
Set in 1946, Rosa Sweetman has been living in Westwood after having left her home and family in Vienna as part of the Kindertransport. But now all the other children have returned home, and Rosa is still waiting. After a mysterious visitor comes to Westwood, Rosa decides she wants to join her in visiting her family in Brazil. The visitor is on a quest to find a Giant Sloth, and Rosa would love to be part of that. This trip turns into more of an adventure than Rosa knows, and she finds jaguars, a new family and herself along the way.
With this being a sequel written by a different author many years after the original, there was a question about whether it was going to have the same vibes. I’d heard of Carroll before, and I knew that she’s a pretty prolific kids’ historical fiction writer. So I trusted that the book would be at least decent. And the vibes were immaculate. Though you can see the difference in when the books were written, as well as when they were set, they both gave me the same feels. There were some scenes in this book very reminiscent of the first book, and I appreciated that. Plus, Rosa being an Austrian from Vienna like Ibbotson felt like a very sweet homage. Both Rosa and Ibbotson came to England because of the Second World War, and that felt right.
However, as much as I liked the vibes, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I’d hoped I would.
The book started off well. In the first book the racism the indigenous people experienced was very in-your-face and on the page in a way that you know was supposed to tell you it was wrong. This book, on the other hand, started off seeming to be about conservation. And I adored that. There are a lot of questions as to whether it’s good to take over land and the greed that can lead to the destruction of nature. It’s something I feel strongly about, and it’s so sad to think how far it’s come today compared to when the book was set. The mission the characters were on was seemingly to hunt down an animal that’s thought to be extinct and is now a Bigfoot-like creature.
But then you get a twist.
I’m not going to go into details on that as I don’t want this review to be too spoilery. But there’s a reason why I don’t tend to read fiction set around this sort of time. Do I think it’s an important period to learn about? Yes. For sure. But I also studied history until I finished sixth form, and we studied the Second World War in some capacity almost every year. You kind of get a bit bored of it. I’m glad I know about it. I hate the nazis then and the nazis now. I knew this book was set only a year after the war, and I knew Rosa was affected by it. I did expect it to pop up to some extent. But the way it was woven in as a twist just made me sigh, roll my eyes and just want to get the book over with. I didn’t feel like I really learnt anything about what happened then in this book. It just felt like it was being used as that was the time. And I’d have preferred the focus to stick to conservation.
I didn’t really have many thoughts on the characters. It was nice to see the characters from the first book as adults. It was fun to see Manaus in a later period too. But nothing about the characters felt that special.
I enjoyed most of the book well enough, and I found it super quick to get through. But it’s also not one I plan on rereading, and that’s such a disappointment.
Title: Escape to the River Sea
Author: Emma Carroll
Age Range: Middlegrade (8-12)
Release Date: 9/6/22