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Reviewed by Rebecca McLafferty for Readers' Favorite
In Angela Castillo’s The River Girl’s Song, the reader experiences the vulnerability of 1880s Bastrop, Texas. Sixteen-year-old Zillia Bright is abandoned with her baby brother on the family farm. The reader’s heart will ache for the lifestyle of poverty and backbreaking work endured by this tenacious teen. The author authentically illustrates the hardships of everyday 1880s farm life and the complexities and dangers that go hand-in-hand with it.
Zillia encounters myriad obstacles that challenge her disposition and fortitude. Her resolve to protect her parents’ legacy evolves into her own soul searching priorities; she must decide what is best for her and her young brother. Strong-minded and determined not to fail, Zillia makes each decision with her brother’s well being and the family farm in mind. Good friends and neighbors prove to be invaluable while dangerous neighbors spew fear. A romantic story blossoms along with the heroine’s maturity and wisdom. The story’s unexpected kindnesses rival the flames of hatred and judgment that are as real today as they were in the 1880s. Christian compassion shown through sometimes simple and often unexpected gestures help Zillia learn that God truly loves her.
Angela Castillo’s ability to share the river’s presence is a product of her own knowledge and research. The magnitude of the river’s presence, whether giving a sense of calming solitude or the life-threatening rush of its current, was effectively portrayed. The pros and cons of living near a river provide its own set of challenges and rewards, which the author skillfully incorporated into the story. This coming-of-age story feels true to life, with Zillia’s outlook and priorities shifting as the story evolves.