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River, Cross My Heart

3.46  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,972 Ratings  ·  236 Reviews
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. River, Cross My Heart, which marks the debut of a wonderfully gifted new storyteller, 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 ...more
Paperback, 245 pages
Published October 1st 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published July 1st 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nov 19, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Jamila
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 ...more
Jan 28, 2010 Maya rated it it was ok
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
Mar 13, 2016 Carolyn rated it did not like it
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...
Feb 18, 2016 Dux rated it it was ok
Shelves: realistic
I really, really, really, really wished the whole damn book was like its first chapter, its beautiful and haunting first chapter. It feels as though the whole story isn't coherent, I mean after a while it becomes fairly obvious that it is a story about the community and it doesn't actually have a plot of some sort but still, it still couldn't been great if it had focused on the characters more.

It didn't need to have a plot. Plot isn't necessary for a great novel. However, the community aspec
Lucinda Porter
Sep 04, 2011 Lucinda Porter rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 27, 2009 Holly rated it it was ok
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
Keyshia Dorsey
Sep 10, 2014 Keyshia Dorsey rated it it was amazing
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.
Victoria Smith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 ...more
Jun 05, 2014 Maureen rated it liked it
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
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
Oct 31, 2014 Annie rated it really liked it
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 t
Mar 20, 2014 Monique rated it liked it
So just finished this book and had to write this review before I went to sleep..yes I should definitely be asleep LOL however this book is one that is easy to forget about and one you can easily put down and not pick up again (sorry) but, also when you do pick it up and start reading and get into it you can't stop! So it was that I was pleasantly surprised by this book and honestly it would have been a four star book on content and depth alone however it hit a few snags in its chronology but for ...more
May 17, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Antonella Bellman
May 12, 2016 Antonella Bellman rated it liked it
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.
Jun 07, 2014 Kristine rated it it was amazing
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
Claire - The Coffeeholic Bookworm
Breena Clarke wrote a story that was at first heart-stopping and gut-wrenching, although at the end of the book, it left me hanging and thinking, what happened? I wish the story had had more depth.. I may have to agree with the others, there was no exact plot in the story, it seemed lacking. But her characters, Johnnie Mae particularly, captured my heart, from the moment she realized her sister was gone and felt guilty over her death and for her family's decision to move to another place.

This st
Marin Thomas
Feb 05, 2015 Marin Thomas rated it really liked it
This was a tough story for me to read, because I know someone who's child drowned. Maybe that was also why I connected with how this family dealt with their loss--very real emotions that rang true to me.
Apr 29, 2009 Christi rated it really liked it
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.
Interesting coming of age story with incite into black culture of the 1920s. Though the plot was rather simplistic, it did hold my attention.
Debi Kermeen
Jul 10, 2012 Debi Kermeen rated it really liked it
I could not put this book down for very long….her writing really made me feel like I was right there with the characters~
Anne Marie
Jan 31, 2015 Anne Marie rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book! It was centered around a black family in 1920's Georgetown. Johnnie Mae, a pre-teen girl, loses her sister Clara when she drowns in the river. Throughout the book, Johnnie Mae mourns her sister, makes a new friend, Pearl, and goes through growing pains as well as the happiness of getting a new baby brother. This book kind of reminded me of Little House on the Prairie. It was also sad to think of all the struggles the family was going through and the struggles they would cont ...more
Aug 09, 2012 Amy rated it liked it

Okay. Not a huge page-turner, but captivating enough that I wanted to finish.
Dec 20, 2012 Marie rated it liked it
Hard to stay with at firsrt. Then it was a page turner. Ending, I didn't get.
Aug 24, 2014 Shavonne rated it it was ok
After reading the first few pages, I had an idea of where the book was going. However, I was wrong. I won't say that I was disappointed, but I will say I found my thoughts wondering as a read the book. It could be that I read four books over the course of the weekend and "River Cross My Heart," came after I read "Loving Donovan," "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" and "Cane River." My mind may have been on overdrive. In any event, I may read "River Cross My Heart Again" at some point. Until then, let ...more
Erin Caufield
Aug 30, 2015 Erin Caufield rated it really liked it
This novel reads like a collection of stories where we get to follow a young African American girl named Johnnie Mae as she is coming of age in Georgetown in 1925 and dealing with the accidental drowing of her younger sister Clara. While I wish the author would have given more closure on Clara's death I found the authors way of describing life as an African American in 1925 to be very captivating and emotionally compelling. I still find myself wanting to know more on how Johnnie Maes life turned ...more
Oct 02, 2014 Steph rated it really liked it
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
Sheena  at Hot Eats and Cool Reads
I couldn't get into this book!
Brooke Kuether
May 08, 2015 Brooke Kuether rated it did not like it
I gave this book a 1 out of 5 because it was really confusing and didn't have a family mourn over their daughter's death. This book started off with a family of 4, Willie, Alice, Johnnie Mae, and Clara. Clara died in a river, they had their funeral, then they talked a little bit about how they miss her. Then it goes on and talks about things that happened during their lives after her death, and doesn't really mention her throughout the rest of the story. I got really confused in this book, and I ...more
Jan 03, 2010 Margaret rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An interesting family & neighborhood history of Black Georgetown USA in 1925 - racism - segregation etc. Johnnie Mae(10) is responsible for her sister Clara (5) - while Johnnie and friends are swimming in the forbidden Potomac -Clara who was left sitting on a rock drowns. Johnnie Mae doesn't know if she drowned her or let her drown or if she just fell off the rock. Lovely pages about the black church's funeral and all the wisdom of family friends. For instance: the first sentence reads, "Dan ...more
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Breena Clarke's third novel, ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE, will be published in July, 2014. Breena is the author of two historical novels set in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Her debut novel, RIVER, CROSS MY HEART (1999) was an October 1999 Oprah Book Club selection. Clarke’s critically reviewed second novel, STAND THE STORM is set in mid-19th century Washington, D.C. and was cho ...more
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“Only a teaspoon of self-pity, girl. Every day give yourself a teaspoonful, but only a teaspoonful. Fill it up full, but only once! Don’t let yourself have more. You can’t live off it. But just a bit of it is like a tonic.” 10 likes
“But comes a time for a woman when she stops thinking of herself as a girl, as a person of possibilities. She starts looking at the plain facts of herself. Her body that’s become the body that she has and her habits becoming the habits that she’s written in stone. Her “haves” being the ones she’s got and maybe not getting anymore.” 2 likes
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