2003 National Book Award Finalist:
Young People's Literature

Richard Peck

The River Between Us

Dial Books / Penguin Group USA

About the Book

At the outset of the Civil War in 1861, two mysterious young women arrive by steamboat in Grand Tower, Illinois, a river town on the muddy banks of the Mississippi. One woman, vibrant and commanding, is dressed in the high-fashion regalia of the era; the other, withdrawn and brooding, looks very much as though she may be an escaped slave now walking on free soil. Soon after arriving, the new faces are offered room and board in the Pruitt household. As the mystery unfolds, the lives of both the Pruitts and their visitors are forever changed, and the degree of impact one person can have on another is tested to its limit.

About the Author

Born in Decatur, Illinois, Richard Peck is the author of thirty novels. After seeing military action in Germany, he returned to the United States and was a teacher until 1971. In addition to his writing, Mr. Peck travels across the country giving talks to groups about writing. He participated in the National Book Foundation Settlement House Author Residency program at Sunnyside Community Service Senior Center in Queens, New York, in 1999. He is the the first children's writer to be awarded a National Humanities Medal from the White House and was a National Book Award Finalist in 1998 for A Long Way From Chicago: A Novel in Stories. He lives in New York City.

Selected Backlist

Amanda/Miranda
Are You in the House Alone?
Don't Look and It Won't Hurt

Dreamland Lake
The Ghost Belonged to Me
Fair Weather
The Last Safe Place on Earth
A Long Way from Chicago

Remembering the Good Times
Secrets of the Shopping Mall
Strays like Us
A Year Down Yonde
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Excerpt

Chapter One

To me, the best part was that we'd make the trip by car. When I say car, I mean a Ford, of course, a Model T touring car, and they don't make them like that anymore. In those days it was a big thing to drive a car out of town, let alone a hundred miles each way of Southern Illinois dirt road. I thought the journey itself was going to be the adventure.

My dad made house calls in the Ford. He was a very well-thought-of doctor in the St. Louis of that time. A tall man with black curly hair parted in the middle and steel-rimmed spectacles gripping the bridge of his nose. He wore high celluloid collars, and I never saw him without a necktie.

I thought he carried all the wisdom of the world in the black bag that traveled to house calls with him on the front seat of the Ford. With the same silent skill that he used to set a bone, he could patch a tire.

Apparently, my dad had been young once, but I couldn't picture it. Even at the age of fifteen I knew but little about who he was and where he'd come from. And so I knew but little about myself.

My dad was what they called a self-made man. Though he'd succeeded in St. Louis, he'd come from a little town called Grand Tower on the other side of the Mississippi River down low in Illinois.

All I knew of Dad's people was that they'd lived through the Civil War. Imagine an age when there were still people around who'd seen U. S. Grant with their own eyes, and men who'd voted for Lincoln. People you could reach out and touch.

My dad's father, the first Dr. William Hutchings, had been a doctor in the Union Army. My grandmother and grandfather Hutchings still lived in what Dad called the homeplace, down in Grand Tower, that wide spot in the road.

I couldn't remember visiting them before. My mother was very standoffish about my dad's side of the family. She was a St. Louis girl, and we boys were named for her side of the family. I was Howard Leland Hutchings. My little brothers, twins, were Raymond and Earl. At the age of five, they were too young to figure much in this story, but they came along on the trip too.

Dad worked a six-and-a-half-day week. It was a great occasion when he found an afternoon to take me to a Browns game. That was before the Browns forsook St. Louis to be the Baltimore Orioles.

But now he had announced that we were going to visit his folks-motoring there and back in the Ford. It was the summer of 1916, and war was raging across Europe, the Great War. Dad said it was just a question of time before America got in it. In wartime there'd be restrictions on travel, and so it was now or never.

The next thing I remember is the morning we left, like the dawn of creation. It was a July day breathless with St. Louis heat and the thrill of the open road unwinding before us. Our preparations had taken days. We'd filled as many cans of gasoline as we could strap to the running boards. Dad had personally filed down the points on the spark plugs. I hadn't slept a wink in two nights, and now the moment of leaving was upon us.

Mother wasn't going and didn't want us to go. And I didn't know why. I remember her up on the porch and the Ford there in the middle of Maryland Avenue. Dad and I wore dusters and caps with goggles. One of the extra features of our Ford was a windshield. But it was always laid flat across the hood for city driving. The Ford was a touring car, which meant it had a canvas pull-up roof in case of rain, or for when you spent a night on the road.

You had to crank the car a good ten minutes to get it going, and Dad left that part to me. The knack for starting a Ford was to jack up a rear wheel. He got the little boys settled on the rear seat, but they kept spilling out of the car, running back to the house for something they'd forgotten. I wondered if we'd ever get away.

But at last the engine caught and turned over. The Ford coughed twice and came to life. Dad broke a fresh egg into the radiator so that it would hard-boil and seal the leaks. The boys were more or less settled. Dad let out the brake and fiddled with the gas lever. We'd already roused the neighborhood. Now we were off in a volley of sharp reports from the tailpipe. And Mother was turning back to the house.

I ought to have kept a journal of the trip, but that's not the way of a fifteen-year-old boy. I remember we were hardly over the Illinois side before Earl learned he was subject to car sickness and Raymond was hit with a great wave of homesickness. Dad had something in his black bag for Earl. He cured Raymond by saying it wasn't too late to take him back home and leave him behind.

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