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River, Cross My Heart

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The acclaimed bestseller -- a selection of Oprah's Book Club -- that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, and a community reeling from a young girl's tragic death. When five-year-old Clara Bynum drowns in the Potomac River under a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters, the community must reconcile The acclaimed bestseller -- a selection of Oprah's Book Club -- that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, and a community reeling from a young girl's tragic death. When five-year-old Clara Bynum drowns in the Potomac River under a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters, the community must reconcile themselves to the bitter tragedy. Clarke powerful charts the fallout from Clara's death on the people she has left behind: her parents, Alice and Willie Bynum, torn between the old world of their rural North Carolina home and the new world of the city; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara's sister, ten-year-old Johnnie Mae, who is thrust into adolescence and must come to terms with the terrible and confused emotions stirred by her sister's death. This highly accomplished debut novel reverberates with ideas, impassioned lyricism, and poignant historical detail as it captures an essential and moving portrait of the Washington, DC community.


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The acclaimed bestseller -- a selection of Oprah's Book Club -- that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, and a community reeling from a young girl's tragic death. When five-year-old Clara Bynum drowns in the Potomac River under a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters, the community must reconcile The acclaimed bestseller -- a selection of Oprah's Book Club -- that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, and a community reeling from a young girl's tragic death. When five-year-old Clara Bynum drowns in the Potomac River under a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters, the community must reconcile themselves to the bitter tragedy. Clarke powerful charts the fallout from Clara's death on the people she has left behind: her parents, Alice and Willie Bynum, torn between the old world of their rural North Carolina home and the new world of the city; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara's sister, ten-year-old Johnnie Mae, who is thrust into adolescence and must come to terms with the terrible and confused emotions stirred by her sister's death. This highly accomplished debut novel reverberates with ideas, impassioned lyricism, and poignant historical detail as it captures an essential and moving portrait of the Washington, DC community.

30 review for River, Cross My Heart

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    The first thing to know about this book is that it basically has no plot -- it's more a series of loosely connected vignettes that, when taken as whole, combine to give the reader an impression of African-American life in the 1920s in a particular neighborhood in Washington, D.C. So, while the book does open with a beautifully rendered chapter in which the 12-year-old protagonist's sister drowns in the Potomac river, that tragedy doesn't lead to the kind of linear story with clear resolution man The first thing to know about this book is that it basically has no plot -- it's more a series of loosely connected vignettes that, when taken as whole, combine to give the reader an impression of African-American life in the 1920s in a particular neighborhood in Washington, D.C. So, while the book does open with a beautifully rendered chapter in which the 12-year-old protagonist's sister drowns in the Potomac river, that tragedy doesn't lead to the kind of linear story with clear resolution many readers might expect. In that respect, the book is a bit of a failure -- but to my mind, it more than makes up for it by presenting a compelling roster of leading and supporting characters who bring alive the social history of pre-Depression black Washington. To be sure, the little girl's death hovers over the entire book, and the author does a great job of showing how the community rallies to support the family, but it's really about the community, not the tragedy itself. We get little peeks into everyday life, rituals, habits, social mores, and so forth. And of course, racism and it's economic and social consequences are woven throughout the book in a seamless manner. Ultimately, it's a very personal book -- the author lost her child to an accident, and it's hard not to read the book as part of her grieving process. Also, her parents grew up in Georgetown during the era the book describes, and the book began as a story based on their reminisces, so in that sense it honors their history. It's definitely a book worth checking out if you have a connection to Washington, D.C. or just want a good fictional glimpse of African-American social history -- just don't expect much of a story.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maya

    I almost gave River, Cross My Heart one star, but decided that since I actually bothered to finish it, it deserved more than that. The book is about the impact of a little girl's drowning on her family, notably her big sister. It's a bit like a coming of age story, we follow the big sister through her preteen years and see how the family deals with the loss of their youngest daughter as well as the surviving daughter's changing ways. The idea seemed like it could work, but the lack of dialogue ma I almost gave River, Cross My Heart one star, but decided that since I actually bothered to finish it, it deserved more than that. The book is about the impact of a little girl's drowning on her family, notably her big sister. It's a bit like a coming of age story, we follow the big sister through her preteen years and see how the family deals with the loss of their youngest daughter as well as the surviving daughter's changing ways. The idea seemed like it could work, but the lack of dialogue made it hard for me to stay focused. There were a lot of random lengthy descriptions of insignificant characters. I feel like if they all were connected to the family in some important way, these descriptions would make sense. But they just seemed out of place, especially the ones that came at the end. Anyway, I wouldn't recommend this one, folks. I would like to share the fact that the book allowed for me to have a very funny interaction with my French-speaking physical therapist to whom I explained the definition of "cross my heart" ! Way to go, Bruno. You got more out of this book than I did.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Mullane || At Home in Books

    Breena Clarke's debut novel is an intimate and haunting look at the ramifications of the death of a child on her family members and neighbours. Set in an African-American neighbourhood in Georgetown, DC in the 1920s, River, Cross My Heart is also the coming-of-age story of Johnnie Mae Bynum and her attempts to deal with grief. The novel opens when Johnnie Mae is 12-years-old and is babysitting her six-year-old sister, Clara. They are down at the Potomac river, where Johnnie Mae loves to swim. Cla Breena Clarke's debut novel is an intimate and haunting look at the ramifications of the death of a child on her family members and neighbours. Set in an African-American neighbourhood in Georgetown, DC in the 1920s, River, Cross My Heart is also the coming-of-age story of Johnnie Mae Bynum and her attempts to deal with grief. The novel opens when Johnnie Mae is 12-years-old and is babysitting her six-year-old sister, Clara. They are down at the Potomac river, where Johnnie Mae loves to swim. Clara slips and falls into the water and despite her efforts, Johnnie Mae fails to rescue her. It is a heart-breaking opening to a story, one that sets up a poignant and haunting atmosphere that continues right through to this story's conclusion. Johnnie Mae struggles to cope with the death of Clara. She experiences guilt, fear and loss, endures dreams and imaginings, and sees visions of her sister everywhere: in a new friend who wears braids like Clara's and even in the steam from a boiling pot of green beans that resembles her sister's face. On top of that, Johnnie Mae is of an age where she is dealing with puberty and race issues, as well as institutional and family expectations. Her parents, Alice and Willie also struggle with their own extinguishable grief, but ultimately hope arrives when Johnnie Mae finds her strength in swimming and her family support her newfound passion. This is a story where beyond the initial drowning incident, nothing much happens. It is very much a family-centred, domestic drama that focuses on a collection of characters as they deal with the death of a young child. Minor characters are introduced and chapters often stand alone as set pieces, but in its entirety River, Cross My Heart is beautifully tender novel with lyric prose and wonderful attention to detail, particularly around emotional responses and human nature. It is a truly intimate look at grief and loss, and how a family cope under the most traumatic experiences. Reminiscent of the work of Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, this was a joy to read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Keyshia Dorsey

    i read a few reviews were people were saying the story has no plot, and i guess thats true. it was like i had a glimpse into someones (mostly Johnnie Mae) life. it was a trip and i enjoyed the journey. i find my self wanting to know how johnnie mae turned out as a full adult, did she go to schoool, are her and Pearl still friends. How did her brother turn out? it was a good read i enjoyed it a lot.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    although the setting was intriguing and I learned some things about the history and culture of the time, the writing was so mediocre, I didn't even finish this one... although the setting was intriguing and I learned some things about the history and culture of the time, the writing was so mediocre, I didn't even finish this one...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lucinda Porter

    This is an incredible book. Beautiful story-telling and deftly written. If you liked "The Help" or "The Secret Life of Bees" you will probably like this. This is an incredible book. Beautiful story-telling and deftly written. If you liked "The Help" or "The Secret Life of Bees" you will probably like this.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    boring. especially after the halfway mark.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Smith

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I am a bit perplexed by this book. On the one hand, it's a beautifully written glimpse into 1920s Georgetown's black community, and the interwoven lives of the various characters. On the other hand, it's a story about a child tragically lost to the Potomac river, and the impact this has upon her parents and older sister, twelve-year-old Johnnie Mae. The overall effect is that it shifts around between styles, neither one thing nor the other. The writing is flawless, but I constantly found that jus I am a bit perplexed by this book. On the one hand, it's a beautifully written glimpse into 1920s Georgetown's black community, and the interwoven lives of the various characters. On the other hand, it's a story about a child tragically lost to the Potomac river, and the impact this has upon her parents and older sister, twelve-year-old Johnnie Mae. The overall effect is that it shifts around between styles, neither one thing nor the other. The writing is flawless, but I constantly found that just as I was getting into the mind of Johnnie Mae, the perspective would shift and another (often fairly irrelevant) character would be introduced. While it gave a wonderful overview of the community as a whole, I felt that I didn't stay with any one character long enough to really get to know them. I wanted it to be Johnnie Mae's story, and found myself frustrated with the different detours it kept taking. Did Johnnie Mae know that Willie wasn't her real father? Did Willie have some resentment that the child that survived wasn't his? These are things I would have liked to have seen explored in more depth, rather than the arrival of the beautician, or the incident of the injured cat (which I spent the rest of the book wondering about, since it was never followed up). That said, there are some wonderful and/or heartbreaking moments in the book, such as the opening when Clara drowns and Johnnie Mae tries desperately to save her, and when Johnnie Mae and Pearl break into the whites only swimming pool in the middle of the night. It's definitely worth a read if you're interested in black American history, but don't expect much of a plot.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    I just couldn't get into River Cross My Heart. The story opens with the tragic death of a young girl, and the following plot always comes back to that scene, and how a family and neighborhood are changed because of the death. I don't know if it is because the reader doesn't know the character that passes away, but because there were so few details I couldn't sympathize with any of the characters, but rather felt that I was reading the news. Breena Clarke writes beautifully about 1920's Georgetow I just couldn't get into River Cross My Heart. The story opens with the tragic death of a young girl, and the following plot always comes back to that scene, and how a family and neighborhood are changed because of the death. I don't know if it is because the reader doesn't know the character that passes away, but because there were so few details I couldn't sympathize with any of the characters, but rather felt that I was reading the news. Breena Clarke writes beautifully about 1920's Georgetown, nearly to an extent that you feel like you're there in the Bynum's kitchen as the smells of Thanksgiving dinner take over the house. I truly commend the writing style of this first novel. The protagonist, Johnnie Mae, lives a troubled life from the point of her sister's death, and many of the scenes with the pool, river, and her friend Pearl left me puzzled. I feel like this book left a lot of things unresolved and walk away somewhat scratching my head. I would give this book a 2.5 star rating.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christi

    This was a good book. The lives of the characters were illuminating but at times the characters seemed only partially formed. That didn't detract from the telling of the story, just left me wanting more. This was a good book. The lives of the characters were illuminating but at times the characters seemed only partially formed. That didn't detract from the telling of the story, just left me wanting more.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Emily Adams

    Wonderful. I couldn't put it down. I read several reviews that said the first chapter was the best, but I loved them all. Each one held me. I could almost feel the mothers love for her daughter. Very moving book that I'm glad I read. Wonderful. I couldn't put it down. I read several reviews that said the first chapter was the best, but I loved them all. Each one held me. I could almost feel the mothers love for her daughter. Very moving book that I'm glad I read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Graf

    I really enjoyed this historical fiction novel about the segregated Washington DC neighborhood of Georgetown circa 1925. I particularly liked the spunky 12/13 year old Johnnie Mae who loved to swim but was not allowed to swim in the public pool because of the color of her skin.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    Hard to stay with at firsrt. Then it was a page turner. Ending, I didn't get. Hard to stay with at firsrt. Then it was a page turner. Ending, I didn't get.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    This is really a great book. I actually picked it up while strolling through the flea market one Saturday morning. I enjoyed it so much, I plan on reading it again.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    I'm not sure what to make of this book. It's short, but it started rather slowly for me. I was interested toward the end, but then it ended abruptly. I also thought the author threw in some phrases that might have been meant to shock the reader, but in context they seemed too over-reaching. I'm not sure what to make of this book. It's short, but it started rather slowly for me. I was interested toward the end, but then it ended abruptly. I also thought the author threw in some phrases that might have been meant to shock the reader, but in context they seemed too over-reaching.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kate Gray

    Apparently, I liked this book more than the average reader. Beautiful writing in spots, confusing in others... but that didn't make me dislike the book. This is a memorable community. I loved watching the women interact kind of above Johnnie Mae's head. Apparently, I liked this book more than the average reader. Beautiful writing in spots, confusing in others... but that didn't make me dislike the book. This is a memorable community. I loved watching the women interact kind of above Johnnie Mae's head.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sinclaire

    Really loved the way this book speaks to the culture and way of life of the time. It was kind of a slow read for me though just because the book lacks a strong plot line.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    I gave this book 5 stars for the gifted writing, which so brilliantly tells the story of the devastating loss in the Bynum family. The story gives special focus into the grief of mama, Alice, and older sister, Johnnie Mae, as they deal with the death of their daughter/little sister. Along the way, the reader is introduced to endearing characters; family members, friends, and neighbors, and how they are also affected by this tragic event. I loved the setting of the novel, which gives an interestin I gave this book 5 stars for the gifted writing, which so brilliantly tells the story of the devastating loss in the Bynum family. The story gives special focus into the grief of mama, Alice, and older sister, Johnnie Mae, as they deal with the death of their daughter/little sister. Along the way, the reader is introduced to endearing characters; family members, friends, and neighbors, and how they are also affected by this tragic event. I loved the setting of the novel, which gives an interesting glimpse of a more improved, yet still segregated life of a black community in 1920s Georgetown. The author includes throughout the book some wisdom worth pondering on, such as at the beginning of the novel, when Alice tells Johnnie Mae,"Just go on about your business and hoe the row that God has given you. If looking after your sister is your obligation in life, then be thankful you have a sister." So glad to have found this book at the library.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I liked the book but did not love it. Perhaps I've read too many southern/racism -oriented books lately and need to take a break, though the topic is always relevant,interesting, and (usually)sad. The author, Breena Clarke, has a lovely, informed voice and is quite eloquent in how she writes, capturing the poor Negro-voice and experience perfectly. The plot, though it held great promise as a poignant story about the accidental death of a child and the impact on those around her, somehow never se I liked the book but did not love it. Perhaps I've read too many southern/racism -oriented books lately and need to take a break, though the topic is always relevant,interesting, and (usually)sad. The author, Breena Clarke, has a lovely, informed voice and is quite eloquent in how she writes, capturing the poor Negro-voice and experience perfectly. The plot, though it held great promise as a poignant story about the accidental death of a child and the impact on those around her, somehow never seemed to get off the ground. There was far more focus on characters, which would be fine if these characters came together in a cohesive manner and created a captivating story. To me, that just didn't happen and the story never seemed to take flight.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steph

    River, Cross My Heart is a quiet, thoughtful story of facing tragedy and its aftermath. Although set in a black community in the early 1900's, Clarke focuses much less on ideas of prejudice and its repercussions on the black community than may be expected. Instead, this is a story about families, about mothers and daughters, about life, death, rebirth, and why it is all worth celebrating. The patchwork intricacies of storytelling that Clarke uses meander back and forth throughout the cast of fri River, Cross My Heart is a quiet, thoughtful story of facing tragedy and its aftermath. Although set in a black community in the early 1900's, Clarke focuses much less on ideas of prejudice and its repercussions on the black community than may be expected. Instead, this is a story about families, about mothers and daughters, about life, death, rebirth, and why it is all worth celebrating. The patchwork intricacies of storytelling that Clarke uses meander back and forth throughout the cast of friends and relatives, emphasizing the significance of seemingly small happenings. This was an enjoyable read, much like watching the lapping of waves along a calm shoreline or listening to ones grandparents talk about the olden days.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stacielynn

    I chose this book off the shelf at work. I disregarded the Oprah sticker on the front and read it anyway. It is an interesting story but the author's style sometimes left me confused and uncertain. The protagonist, Johnnie Mae, is an appealing little girl, full of moxie and independence. In a fairy tale she would come out on top, but this is a slice of life in segregated early 20th century Washington, DC., so her fate is not guaranteed to be rosy. The historic details were excellent and I would I chose this book off the shelf at work. I disregarded the Oprah sticker on the front and read it anyway. It is an interesting story but the author's style sometimes left me confused and uncertain. The protagonist, Johnnie Mae, is an appealing little girl, full of moxie and independence. In a fairy tale she would come out on top, but this is a slice of life in segregated early 20th century Washington, DC., so her fate is not guaranteed to be rosy. The historic details were excellent and I would have enjoyed even more. I cared very much about Johnnie Mae, but felt distant from the rest of the people in her life. I think there could have been more depths explored and that left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied when I reached the last page.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pam Masters

    I want to say that I found this book through the recommendations on Goodreads based on books I have read before. If it wasn't for that, I probably wouldn't have read this book. That said, I have to say that it was a pretty easy read. My biggest issue with this story was the constant flipping of point of view mid-stream. There were several times that I was unsure who's mind I was in or who's eyes I was seeing out of. That made it difficult to follow at some points. I did find myself drawn to read I want to say that I found this book through the recommendations on Goodreads based on books I have read before. If it wasn't for that, I probably wouldn't have read this book. That said, I have to say that it was a pretty easy read. My biggest issue with this story was the constant flipping of point of view mid-stream. There were several times that I was unsure who's mind I was in or who's eyes I was seeing out of. That made it difficult to follow at some points. I did find myself drawn to read the book, whether it's due to the book or the fact I've set a reading challenge for myself this year, I'm not sure.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Just some random thoughts...The second half of River, Cross My Heart was more enjoyable than the first 100 pages, which tell of the death of a child. It's important, but less could have been written. Moreover, the main character's coming of age story is unfortunately rushed. I loved Clarke's character descriptions and her illustrations of people's ways. I just wish there was more. For a book with such a sad beginning, it ended on a hopeful note, which was nice. I'd give it more of a 3.5 stars. Just some random thoughts...The second half of River, Cross My Heart was more enjoyable than the first 100 pages, which tell of the death of a child. It's important, but less could have been written. Moreover, the main character's coming of age story is unfortunately rushed. I loved Clarke's character descriptions and her illustrations of people's ways. I just wish there was more. For a book with such a sad beginning, it ended on a hopeful note, which was nice. I'd give it more of a 3.5 stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Antonella

    The book opens with the drowning of six-year old Clara Bynum when she falls in the Potomac River as her sister, Johnnie Mae swims nearby. It takes place in the 1920s in Washington, D.C., and follows the Bynum family (who is black) through their journey of healing after such a tragic loss.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Interesting coming of age story with incite into black culture of the 1920s. Though the plot was rather simplistic, it did hold my attention.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Debi Kermeen

    I could not put this book down for very long….her writing really made me feel like I was right there with the characters~

  27. 4 out of 5

    Thebestdogmom

    Once again, another Oprah book club book I wish I never read. I really felt this book went no where. I wish I gave up on reading it after a few pages like I was inclined to do.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Beverlee

    River, Cross My Heart is not a neat, organized story with all the elements of a traditional story spaced throughout maybe 250-300 pages. I think the first chapter captures a rudimentary introduction, rising action, climax, and the rest of the novel works in reverse offering more detail on the characters and the conclusion. The story is not centered as much on Clara's death-the why, the how, who's to blame-it's about the what-what does her family and community do to heal and move forward. Life is River, Cross My Heart is not a neat, organized story with all the elements of a traditional story spaced throughout maybe 250-300 pages. I think the first chapter captures a rudimentary introduction, rising action, climax, and the rest of the novel works in reverse offering more detail on the characters and the conclusion. The story is not centered as much on Clara's death-the why, the how, who's to blame-it's about the what-what does her family and community do to heal and move forward. Life is messy and I didn't have a real expectation on how to resolve grief and live ever after. It's established early that Johnnie Mae has a rebellious streak. She is like most any other young girl, she doesn't relish being responsible for her younger sister but knows it's her duty. Johnnie Mae loves to swim, Clara loves being around her sister. Clara's accidental drowning doesn't diminish Johnnie Mae's attachment to water, it strengthens it. Part of me is glad that Breena Clarke did not present the Bynums as wallowing in grief the entire novel because that is the expectation for some readers. I think it's important to remember that people grieve in different ways. The family moves through the stages of grief and by the end of the novel there is acceptance which I think functions as the conclusion. River, Cross My Heart is historical fiction and I love how Breena Clarke inserted details of African American into Georgetown/DC, the future "Chocolate City". She name drops Madam C.J. Walker and the Leila School in NYC with a character's entrance functioning as elevating the fashion sense of the ladies and grooming a child's hair as the catalyst for establishing a salon. Think about it-a black woman owning a business in the South in the 1920s-a definite shout out to entrepreneurial spirit of the African American community. Clarke also mentions Nannie Helen Burroughs and Mary McLeod Bethune in reference to education (Alice wanting Johnnie Mae to have a chance, to not be afraid to dream). There are elements of colorism-"one child described as "whole lot of yella wasted" because of her hair being unkempt and not straight, Johnnie Mae is referenced as having "good hair" compared to Clara (also established that Willie is not her biological father though it's unknown if Johnnie Mae is aware). Classism and respectability politics rears its head with the scene between Johnnie Mae and Pearl's teacher Elizabeth Boston and Hattie Miller meeting to discuss Pearl. This scene stands out to me because Clarke flips it so that Miss. Boston nearly forgets the accepted citified ways. It's briefly mentioned, but there were a few scenes that offered a brief glimpse into city vs country African Americans tradition by way of medical practice (roots and herbs vs traditional medicine). There is also a scene where Johnnie Mae and Pearl sneak into the "Whites Only" pool and are nearly caught. I think this is important not just because of the obvious wrong in having a separate pool based on race but in Johnnie Mae healing from feeling guilty about not being able to save Clara. The only weak point I saw in River, Cross My Heart was the introduction of so many secondary characters that weren't necessary tell the story. It can be confusing to keep track of who's who and why they're included. River, Cross My Heart is a story of redemption and a reminder to love self and family.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    River, Cross My Heart is a wonderful book. Clarke creates an entire neighborhood, black Georgetown of 1925, a neighborhood in Washington, DC, now exclusively inhabited by wealthy whites. We see the black owned businesses, the churches, the social clubs, the school. Through the eyes of the characters, we experience the bitterness of segregation, the way the black children feel watching the white children swim in the only neighborhood pool, the ever so careful dance the black maids and cooks have River, Cross My Heart is a wonderful book. Clarke creates an entire neighborhood, black Georgetown of 1925, a neighborhood in Washington, DC, now exclusively inhabited by wealthy whites. We see the black owned businesses, the churches, the social clubs, the school. Through the eyes of the characters, we experience the bitterness of segregation, the way the black children feel watching the white children swim in the only neighborhood pool, the ever so careful dance the black maids and cooks have to perform for their employers, the courage the minister has to pull together to ask the local cop not to send the body of a drowned girl to the morgue for an autopsy. River.. focuses on one family, the Bynums, Alice, the mother, Willie, the father, and Johnnie Mae and Clara, the daughters. The story begins with a Bynum family tragedy and ends a year later with a family triumph. In between is a whole panoply of emotions, interactions and intricate descriptions of black life in the 20s in what was essentially a small Southern town. Most of the story is told from the point of view of 12 year old Johnnie Mae, but we also hear from Alice, Willie, Miss Elizabeth Boston, Johnnie Mae's teacher, and Hattie Miller and her daughter Pearl, among others. Since the book is essentially a child's narrative, it is an excellent book for teenagers that will teach them what life was like "back in the day" better than a history lesson.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mary Aalgaard

    I listened to the newly released audio of this book. Karen Chilton is an excellent narrator for this historical novel, set in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., around 1925. Johnnie Mae, age 10, who is often put in charge of her younger sister Clara, feels responsible when Clara drowns in the Potomac River one day when she is swimming with her friends. Johnnie Mae dives and dives and tries to find her, but the river claimed her life. Her body is recovered, and the hearts of her fam I listened to the newly released audio of this book. Karen Chilton is an excellent narrator for this historical novel, set in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., around 1925. Johnnie Mae, age 10, who is often put in charge of her younger sister Clara, feels responsible when Clara drowns in the Potomac River one day when she is swimming with her friends. Johnnie Mae dives and dives and tries to find her, but the river claimed her life. Her body is recovered, and the hearts of her family are broken. This is a story about grief and family. It's about growing up in a segregated America and the Black experience. One reason that the girls are swimming in the dangerous Potomac River is because they aren't allowed in the Whites only pool. Johnnie Mae is an excellent swimmer. In other times, she would be the star of a swim team. Eventually, the city builds a pool for the Black residents, but the racist oppression is still strong. As I was finishing listening to this book, the national news ran a story on recently deceased Civil Rights Activist Mimi Jones who fought against Whites only pools. She and others were in a pool when a White man poured acid in the water. This is a story about tearing down the walls of segregation and oppression one brick at a time. If the girls had been allowed in the pool, with life guards, Clara would still be alive.

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