"Would you trust a 16-year-old?" While not the most poignant question posed by this book, it's the one that stuck with me and the one that got me thinking. As someone who suffers from mental illness and was a miserable brat in my teenage years, I could see a lot of myself in Hannah Anderson's reactions - and had I been a different person, one, perhaps, predisposed to violence toward others (instead of toward myself), I may have had it in me to do something similar. This chilling revelation is just one of the painful realizations that hits after reading Chelsea Hoffman's work.
Her prose is fluid and her imagery is stark and hard-hitting. Being almost completely unfamiliar with the details of this case before reading River of No Return, Ms. Hoffman covers all the basics that a newcomer to the Anderson/DiMaggio case would need to know - the whos, whats, wheres, whys, and even attempts to address the hows that everyone is grasping for. Once I began reading, I could not put the book down and devoured it in the span of less than a day.
Unfortunately, I can't give this book 5 stars. While I was unfamiliar with the case, I was in contact with Chelsea at the time of writing and knowing the pressure she was under from Taylor Street Publishing to finish the book (in my opinion, at the cost of the story), it shows.
Unlike Ms. Hoffman's other work, this felt rushed and disjointed at times. Chapters that should have been contiguous were slapped here and there. Spelling and grammatical errors (that Ms. Hoffman owns up to in the foreword) are present throughout the book, but in my opinion, it doesn't lessen the experience: Ms. Hoffman's voice, style and message are enough to overcome any errors that may be present due to sloppy editing. Unfortunately, due to the rush to publish, Ms. Hoffman missed a few things that could have enhanced this book: A chance to set a vivid scene in Frank Church, a chance to delve into the sad history of the area (which she mentions, but does not elaborate on) and a chance to flesh out the Marilyn Monroe obsession (which, to this fan, is fascinating given the (sadly unmentioned) obvious connection between the alleged offender and Ms. Monroe's ex husband, if in name only.)
Even with these missed opportunities and errors, this book is well worth the price and well worth the read. Ms. Hoffman's voice is easy and conjures up the images you need in your head (no matter how painful they may be. For an example, see her walk through of the autopsy results). She has an ability to make you question all sides while allowing you to form your own opinions, gently guiding you through the facts of the case. And beyond that? She'll make you question yourself and your own behavior, humanizing the players in this case which is both chilling and more than appropriate.