Synopses & Reviews
A remarkable new writer makes her debut with a novel of tragedy and triumph in the life of an African American family in Georgetown, circa 1925.
Eight-year-old Clara Bynum is dead, drowned in the Potomac River in the shadow of an apparently haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters. In scenes alive with emotional truth, River, Cross My Heart weighs the effect of Clara's absence 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, to which they have moved in search of a better life for themselves and their children; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara's sister, twelve-year-old Johnnie Mae, who must come to terms with the powerful and confused emotions sparked by her sister's death as she struggles to decide and discover the kind of woman she will become.
This highly accomplished first novel resonates with ideas, impassioned lyricism, and poignant historical detail as it captures an essential part of the African American experience in our century.
"An accomplished first novel....The story of Johnnie Mae's eventual triumph and of a city's grudging coming to terms with the hopes and dreams she typifies flows quietly but carves deep channels in the reader's mind." Time
"Seldom do I find a novel that I can recommend to everyone...I'm delighted to say that River, Cross My Heart fills the bill." Chicago Tribune
"A genuine masterpiece...full of grace and beauty and profound insights....It bears traces of Eudora Welty's charm and Toni Morrison's passion." Baltimore Sun
"Compelling....At the same time that Clarke paints a picture of a life limited by segregation, she also provides a portrait of the rich relationships, familial and otherwise, that enrich the community from which the Bynums draw strength....The narrative is given depth by its anatomy of a community tangibly and viscerally brought alive." Washington Times
Five-year-old Clara Bynum is dead, drowned in the Potomac River in the shadow of a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters. The effect of her absence on the people she has left behind is the central theme in this debut novel, chosen by Oprah's Book Club(.C.
For twelve-year-old Johnnie Mae Bynum, the thriving Black community in 1920s Georgetown, Washington, D.C., was the place that nourished her and her family's dreams. But after a shocking event one sweltering summer day, suddenly, tragically, nothing will ever be the same again. Now Johnnie Mae must find her own way through the guilt and pain that threaten the tear her family apart. And as she tests herself against the wider world and her own restlessness her determination to realize what she can become will ultimately change her life and community forever. Written with profound emotional depth, peopled with vivid characters, and offering a rich glimpse of a time and place rarely if ever seen, River, Cross My Heart heralds a powerful new American storyteller.
About the Author
Breena Clarke grew up in Washington, D.C., and was educated at Webster College and Howard University. Her writings have appeared in the anthologies Contemporary Plays by Women of Color and Street Lights: Illuminating Tales of the Urban Black Experience. She currently administers the Editorial Diversity Program at Time Inc. in New York City. She lives in New Jersey.