cover image Rock River

Rock River

Bill Maynard. Putnam Publishing Group, $15.99 (104pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23224-4

Thinly drawn characterizations and a strong moralistic tone mar the intensity of this outdoor adventure story starring a cautious fifth-grader. Since his ""daredevil"" brother drowned in the river outside the family's summer cabin, Luke is more than a little hesitant to take chances in the water (jumping rocks across the rapids) or on land (walking through a bull's pasture), even when he is egged on by his buddies, Milo and Charlie, and his rivals, the Perkins sisters. A fishing competition between the boys and the girls seems like a harmless enough endeavor, but danger erupts when Milo, eager to snag the largest bass, enters dangerously high waters aboard a homemade raft. Predictably, Luke saves his pal's life, proving to himself and to his peers that he is a hero instead of a coward. The book's message, neatly summarized by Luke's father (""Taking chances to show off is foolish. Taking a chance to save a friend's life is not. It's brave""), overshadows some interesting, but underdeveloped strains of the novel, including Luke's relationship with his overanxious mother and his lingering grief over the loss of his older brother. Maynard's (Incredible Ned) unadorned writing style is best suited for those readers on the lower end of the target audience who crave excitement and expect happy endings. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)