The first words that come to mind when seeing a river like the Colorado are flowing, mighty, majestic, peaceful, and pure. The same can be said about this new novel by Heather Mateus Sappemfield. THE RIVER BETWEEN HEARTS wraps readers up in a tale unlike any other.

On an ordinary Monday, Rill Kruse left for third grade with a dad, but when she came home, he’d been stolen. By a river. One year and thirteen days later—on the first morning of summer vacation—Rill still insists he’s trudging home. Her mom has become a practical woman. Her older brother, Eddy. now calls her baby and dork. Gus, second-in-command at Kruse Whitewater Adventures, Rill’s family’s rafting company, has gone from being her dad’s “risk bro” to her mom’s guardian angel. Joyce, company secretary, arm-wrestler, and mechanic, still calls Rill a fingerling, but, after learning what a cheater water is, Rill wishes she’d stop. When Rill’s cat, Clifford, leads her to the family tree fort on the mountainside behind home, she discovers a stowaway, Perla. To help Perla, Rill embarks on an adventure that tests her understanding of the world, of loss, and of what it means to be a friend. In the end, what Rill discovers will nudge her—and all those she loves—toward healing.

Rill is a strong protagonist who goes through every emotion in dealing with the sudden death of her father. There’s anger and hope along with equal amounts of confusion. Grief is never easy and when you’re 10 years old, the going seems even tougher.

Her family runs a white water rafting and snowmobile tours business. The tourists keep everyone busy, but Rill is not quite old enough to help out. The story begins as Rill returns to the tree house in the forest Dad and the family helped build. She finds Perla, a girl left behind after her family was detained and deported to Mexico.

Together these two become friends although understanding each other’s emotions is not always easy. They both grieve losing a loved one in different ways. Their dads will surely return for their daughters, but life is not that easy or possible when wishes are involved.

The first person narration is spot on and never drags. You root for both Rill and Perla throughout, hoping that healing will take place or at least begin. Family, friendship, and understanding wrapped up in a heartwarming drama. The River Between Hearts is one I will not forget.



  1. Short chapters perfect for read aloud in the classroom or at home. They also provide a nice opportunity for discussion.
  2. The character ARC for both Rill and Perla is perfectly crafted. These two will truly steal your heart.
  3. The Colorado tourist setting provided a reality to the backdrop of illegal immigrants. It’s not judgemental but out there for you to absorb. It’s the friendship part of the story that takes over and moves you to the climatic final scenes.
  4. The secondary characters also shine and aren’t just in there to take up space. My favorite was Gus, one of the employees at Kruse Whitewater Adventures.
  5. The Author’s Note is not to be missed. I share part of it below.


HEATHER MATEUS SAPPENFIELD loves adventures, especially in the Rocky Mountain landscape that’s been her lifelong home. As part of women’s teams, she’s won 24-hour mountain bike races and road bicycling’s Race Across America—San Diego, California to Atlantic City, New Jersey. She’s also competed in the Mountain Bike World Championships; ski instructed for Vail Resorts, and loves backcountry ski touring. Her toughest adventures, though, arise in the writing of stories. She is the author of two contemporary YA novels, “The View from Who I Was” and “Life at the Speed of Us,” a Colorado Book Awards Finalist. Her story collection, “Lyrics for Rock Stars,” released as winner of the V Press LC Compilation Book Prize, was nominated for the MPIBA’s Reading the West Awards, was a silver medalist for the IBPA’s Ben Franklin Awards, and was featured on Colorado Public Radio. Her most recent book, “The River Between Hearts,” runner-up for the Kraken Prize, is a middle grade novel about friendship and healing.

Follow Heather Mateus Sappenfield on social media:

Facebook: @heathermateussappenfield | Twitter: @alpineheather Instagram: @heathermateussappenfield

Heather’s Inspiration behind THE RIVER BETWEEN HEARTS

In the mid-nineties, I taught high school language arts. Students who were new to America would turn up in my classes. Some of them were undocumented, yet I’d become a teacher to help anyone with a desire to learn. These students were a marvel to me because, despite knowing little, if any, English, and despite knowing few of the basics of daily life within the school, they managed to get by. Often admirably. Often while also working one or even two jobs after school.

Some mornings I’d walk through the school’s front doors to discover a group of them gathered in the lobby, crying and comforting each other because a family member, or maybe a few, had been rounded up for deportation the day or night before. I tried to imagine how that must feel: being left behind in a foreign country with no documentation and no family. Later, these students would be in my class, trying to concentrate, learn, and continue on. Their courage amazed me. When I started writing novels, I knew this was a story I would someday explore.


I received an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Comments are welcome below.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Sounds really good, but also so sad! I must watch out for it. Thanks for the review!

  2. Haven’t seen this one at all. Will have to take a look. I always love to read books by people who have actually spent time with their target demographic!

  3. carolbaldwin says:

    This sounds like a powerful read. On my TBR list! Thanks.

  4. It’s on my list to read now thanks to this review.

  5. Esther says:

    Thank you for sharing this book with us. It sounds like an important and interesting MG novel, and it’s now on my list to read.

  6. Andrea says:

    This sounds wonderful. I will be ordering a copy tomorrow. Thanks for telling us about it.

  7. This sounds like a great story, though it does sound somewhat sad that Rill has to cope with her father’s death. Thanks for sharing it this week.

  8. Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    Wow—this sounds like a really powerful read! I hadn’t seen this one at all, but the premise and the excerpt from the author’s note are really convincing. Thanks so much for the wonderful review, Greg!

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