Title: Flow Like a River
Author: Mark Guillerman
Genre: Historical Fiction / Action Adventure
Flow Like A River is a historical fiction adventure story that draws the reader in from the first page to the last. It opens many years before white settlers landed in west Texas, with a great Chanas chief sitting on the bank of the Sacred River. A vision comforts the old, dying man as he gives himself over to the river.
Seventy-five years later, the small western town of Gary, Texas, on the Guadalupe River is bustling with activity. Although never stated, author Mark Guillerman skillfully guides the reader into knowing that the town stands on the banks of the same river and in the same spot where the extinct tribe once lived. The spiritual past of the place is palpable, even as townsfolk go about their ordinary daily lives.
Guillerman’s personal familiarity with the area and his research into its history are evident in the vividly described scenes and events. Although the story is fictional, the intertwining of fact with the author’s imagination gives the book a solid underpinning that satisfies our curiosity about what it was truly like to live on the western frontier. That curiosity is stirred up by a rollicking, fast-paced tale focusing on two boys who become mired in events that seem far beyond their control. Still, they manage to become entangled in battling the nefarious doings of an evil stranger who shows up in town.
With the combination of adventure and history, this book is appropriate for adults and teens. Written in a way that engages a wide audience, the appeal of its characters crosses age and gender lines.
The two youthful main characters, Johnny and Billy, share a friendship that is out of the norm, with Johnny being white and Billy being a last known descendant of the Indian chief. The boys’ bond is so aptly described, and is mindful of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Other characters in Flow Like a River are equally compelling, from the evil stranger to the town sheriff and a curmudgeonly moonshiner. Even Duke, the mellow dog, is drawn out in a way that makes us pull for him, too.
There are times when more dialog seems appropriate, as these characters are so interesting. Although the narrative is informative, hearing the voices and being privy to the thoughts of the characters would provide even more insight into their motivations and would allow us to be even more invested in knowing them. There is a lot of narrated action—chases and shooting and running—that would be heightened by hearing more from the characters.
However, that does not detract from the appeal of the action and adventure this story provides. It leaves us feeling as if we ourselves have ventured into the untamed frontier west and came out stronger and better for it.
Flow Like a River may seem like a straight-forward legend about ruthless western justice, but Guillerman gives us so much more. He lures us into the deep spirituality of the Chanas tribe and their reverence for the Sacred River that sustained their lives. He guides us into learning to respect such places ourselves. Best of all, he reminds us of the importance of loyalty to our families and friends, and of honoring our ancestry. In the end, the river will take us all; thus, we might as well get along with each other while here on solid ground.
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