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New <i>After River</i> weaves a beautiful, haunting story

Remember your high school crush?

Do you recall the first time you saw him, the way his hair curled, the carefree way his jacket sleeves were pushed up, the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled? For months, you secretly wrote his name with "Mrs." in front of it.

He might not have known you. Maybe he didn't even know you existed, but you can't forget him: your first crush.

Natalie will always remember the summer of 1966 and the young man who walked up the road to the farmhouse. She was just 15, and in the new novel After River by Donna Milner, life was never the same again.

Thirty-five years after she left home, Natalie Ward is called back. Her mother, Nettie, is dying and she's asking for Natalie. Vern, Natalie's husband, offers to go with her to the farm nestled in the mountains of Canada, but Natalie tells him to stay. He lets her go without him, hoping she returns.

On the trip home, Natalie remembers. She loved the farm once upon a time. She loved the fields, the smell of hay, and making a milk run with her father. Working the garden was a favorite chore because she loved listening to her mother's gentle voice.

The family was close then; brothers Carl and Morgan were never far apart, always teasing and laughing. Boyer, Natalie's favorite sibling, taught her games and shared his love of words. It was a rare evening when there wasn't an extra body at the Ward table, because Nettie's cooking was well known.

And then there was River.

In need of a farm hand, Nettie ignored her husband's wishes and hired an American draft dodger. On that summer day as he walked up the road, Natalie remembers how the young man looked golden in the sunlight, guitar slung over his shoulder, hair in a ponytail, wearing a hippie's India-woven shirt.

His real name was Richard, but they called him River. And he charmed everyone with his aqua blue eyes and gentle ways. It wasn't long before Natalie fell in love with him. She wondered what his skin would feel like against hers, yet she sometimes couldn't bear to be his presence. Life was divided both "before River" and "after River."

Then, on the night of the storm, everything changed. Hmm. Well.

It's going to be a darn shame if this book isn't turned into a Meryl Streep movie or something like that.

After River is a beautiful, beautiful novel with a story that keeps you guessing and gasping. Author Donna Milner's style reminded me of Earl Hamner's writing; it's so quiet, so reflectively pained and yet so joyous that you want to read "just another chapter."

Before you know it, you've stayed up two hours past bedtime. Yes, this book is that hard to let go of, and I can't recommend it enough.

If you crave a book with waves of emotion, well-deep sentiment, and floods of beauty, you won't regret finding this one. For you, After River is oceans of enjoyment.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the Detroit Lakes Newspapers book review column, "The Bookworm Sez." Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.