The River

“infobox Book”
name The River
image caption 2012 cover
author Michael Neale
country United States
language English
series The River series
classification Fiction
genre Christian Fiction
publisher Thomas Nelson
release_date September 2012
media_type Print (hardcover, paperback)
pages 320
isbn ISBN-10: 1401688489 ISBN-13: 978-1401688486
followed_by Into the Canyon

The River is a novel by artist and musician Michael Neale. Prior to the book’s publication, Neale developed and produced a multi-media presentation incorporating speaking, music, and film called “The River Experience” which he continues to present in a variety of venues.


The book tells the life story of a man named Gabriel Clarke, a third generation white water rafter. However, as a young boy, Gabriel has the traumatic experience of watching his father drown while trying to save a kayaker on The River, located in Colorado. He moves away to live with his mother in Kansas, and grows up a shy and fearful child.

He is eventually invited to revisit The River (which is always capitalized and is not just a location but in some ways, an important character in the book) with friends. There he faces and overcomes his fear of water and realizes he was “made for The River” and that his destiny includes following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

Published by Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher, the book is not overtly Christian, and does not mention God explicitly. However, it is clear that The River symbolizes God in the story.

Character Summaries

Gabriel Clarke

The protagonist whose life is transformed by his encounters with The River.

The River

In some ways a metaphor for God, described in quotes like: “the River is always moving,” and “The River is alive”.

John Clarke

Gabriel’s father who dies early in the book but whose memory haunts Gabriel.


Gabriel’s mother. She had left her husband and son, but regains custody of Gabriel when John died. She works in a diner in Cairo, Kansas, the small town where they live.

Earl and Vonda Cartwright

A couple who rent a room to Maggie on their farm. Earl is a father figure to Gabriel in some ways.

Jimmy Bly

Gabriel’s childhood friend who eventually comes back to invite him on a trip to The River (when Gabriel is 20 years old).

Lily Collingsworth

A teacher in grade school who befriends Gabriel. She is a native American whose Cherokee name, Aykwa-Aykwanee, means “Great River”.


The girl that Gabriel meets on his trip to The River, and eventually falls in love with.

Resource Links

Michael Neale’s Website