CW: Sexual assault.
I received this book from The Next Best Book Club in exchange for an honest review.
“Love…was sometimes a decision you made, a promise to yourself to see only the best in a person, in spite of what else might be lurking,” (Schweighardt 46).
Estela Hopper, the illegitimate child of Jack Hopper, has been studying opera by an esteemed instructor in her home of Manaus, Brazil for most of her life. When she is offered a chance to work at the Metropolitan Opera in New York her instructor urges her to go, even though she will be working in the sewing room, and to convince the managers that a mixed-race immigrant has what it takes to be a great performer. She leaves Brazil with her cousin Jojo and they both experience the challenges and beauty that New York has to offer. But as they settle into their lives truths are revealed and things change for Jojo and Estela, leading them into vastly different areas and paths. They deal with their own difficulties as they each continue hoping for success in a city so far from their home.
River Aria was the most different of the three books in the Rivers Trilogy, while Jack and Nora are still present they aren’t the focus of the last book in the series. I did enjoy getting to know Estela though, we only got a small glimpse of her at the end of Gifts for the Dead and I was eager to get to know her better. I really enjoyed her voice, how extroverted she was, her feelings and how devoted she is to her dream as an opera singer as well as how dramatic she can be at times. As it’s mentioned in the book, Estela is a character who if she steps on one pebble will complain about the whole path being rocky but if she doesn’t find one will find it’s smooth and easy which is the perfect description of Estela. She reminded me a lot of my sister so it was impossible for me to dislike her! While Estela’s perspective definitely took some getting used too after following Jack and Nora she was a welcome new voice and I like that Schweighardt took a challenge by writing from her perspective. I also enjoyed getting to see Jojo again, though reader’s don’t get a glimpse into his perspective his evolving relationship with Estela give reader’s a picture of him, much different than the bouncing baby Jack met all the way back in Before We Died!
This book also felt very different from the previous books in the Rivers Trilogy, probably because it starts in 1928 and if you know anything about history you know that things are going to be not so great very soon. And Schweighardt does a wonderful job hinting at the Great Depression to come by creating a very tense and drab New York City unlike the bustling city we see so often in media. The oncoming depression definitely affects our beloved Hoppers and truthfully I had so much trouble when Jack and Nora appeared in the book, only because they were both so sad. Again, Schweighardt’s talent at writing fully developed characters continues to shine in River Aria, shown excellently that while we don’t read the perspectives of Jack and Nora in this book reader’s can very clearly see how the characters have changed since returning from Manaus in Gifts for the Dead. I felt so heartbroken whenever Estela went to see Jack and Nora!
My one complaint with the book is that I wasn’t much a fan of the romance. I’ve never been a fan of “
raised-together-not-actually-related-now-have-feelings-for-each-other” trope, but I understand Schweighardt’s decision to use it. River Aria very much feels like an opera at times, the drama, the romance, the tragedy, so much of the novel feels like a show being watched and for those reasons alone this trope makes sense, it’s just not something I’m into.
And a warning, the book does have a couple of pretty descriptive sexual assault scenes, they are both told close together but still worth being aware of when reading.
River Aria is a heartaching end to the Rivers Trilogy, when the ending of a series starts on the cusp of the Great Depression there’s really no possibility of a happy ending. But it was a fitting way to end, the Rivers Trilogy has been filled with tense and depressing moments but the Hoppers have always been characters with hope at their core despite the trouble that has come their way and River Aria is no different. Despite the hardships and tragedy that Estela has faced she is still hopeful. I’ll miss these characters and this series, it’s been such a joy to read and I’ll definitely keep an eye and what other books Schweighardt will publish!
Publication: October 8th 2020
Publisher: Five Directions Press
Pages: 350 pages (PDF)
Source: The Next Best Book Club (Thanks Lori!)
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
River Aria is narrated by Estela Hopper, who, as a ten-year-old girl living in the impoverished fishing village of Manaus, Brazil in the early 20th century, is offered a twist-of-fate opportunity to study opera with an esteemed voice instructor. During her years of instruction, Estela, who is talented, passionate and dramatic by nature, dreams of leaving Brazil to perform in New York. But as there is no way for her beloved instructor to convince the managers of the great Metropolitan Opera that they should bring on a mixed-race immigrant who grew up on the banks of the Amazon River to become an elite performer, she accepts what they do offer, a position in the sewing room…and leaves Brazil on a ship with her cousin JoJo in the year 1928.
The challenges that befall Estela and JoJo in New York are plentiful. Estela’s father, an Irish American who came to her village twenty years earlier (at which time she was conceived), has a plan for what her life should look like once she is settled. Her relationship with JoJo changes drastically when he learns he was lied to about his own parentage, and again when he takes a dangerous job working for the owner of a speakeasy. And of course her personal challenges of finding some modicum of success in a place like New York are not only enormous but crushing to her once robust sense of self.