Book Review: River, Cross My Heart, by Breena Clarke

River, Cross My HeartRiver, Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of the drowning of little Clara and the tragic event's impact on her family and the Black community in Georgetown, Washington, DC early in the 20th Century.
The book has a dream-like quality, captured by the author's writing style of small glimpses into the past as the present unfolds. Johnnie Mae is the main character, the older sister of Clara. Johnnie Mae is present when Clara drowns, escaping into her release of swimming. She is unable to save her little "Rat" and carries this burden throughout the story. The descriptions of the many denizens of Georgetown are so well-written, you can almost imagine them, especially the herb woman who lives behind Johnnie Mae's aunt's house and who helps the family on a few occasions, both with her herbal medicines and her wisdom. One of the main focuses of the book is Johnnie Mae's overwhelming desire to swim in the white people's pool, and her dawning understanding of the intractability and absurdity of racism. The pool becomes a sort of hill to die on for Johnnie and leads to a few situations throughout the story. Another piece is the mystical embodiment of the river itself, and water, and the way they call to Johnnie Mae and are such a central part of her being. This slim novel has so many themes it's impossible to describe them all. Highly recommended.

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