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River, Cross My Heart
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River, Cross My Heart

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  9,572 ratings  ·  205 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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Nov 19, 2009 Tony rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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.
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
Victoria Smith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
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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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mary Pellecchia
The star of this book was the setting, 1920's Georgetown, in Washington DC which was a segregated African-American neighborhood in those days. The author pictured well-maintained houses and peaceful, orderly neighborhoods populated by people who at least gave each other the respect and deference denied to them by the outside world. The routineness and viciousness of the racism of the outside world were shocking. The book lets you feel what it is like to live in a world where every single thing, ...more
There are some things about this book that I really enjoyed. For example, the description of what is was like to be African American and living in Georgetown in 1925 are stark and emotionally compelling. And Clarke's use of language can be sweetly lyrical. Yet, I feel that there is some element missing from the main story line and, in particular, the portrayal of how Johnnie Mae seeks to come to terms with her sister's drowning. Perhaps it is a gritty depth of characters that the novel seems to ...more
(FROM JACKET)Six-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 an
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.
The characters were engaging and interesting, I thought the way the book started that it would be all heartache and sadness, but it was such an engrossing story it kept my interest. It certainly had it's share of sadness though. If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably skip this one.
The style and diction was spectacular and creative however it truly has no plot. I gained no moral value from the book and that makes it a fail for me. Had it been a bit better planned out in terms of the connectivity of the events, it could have been a very good book.
River, Cross My Heart is the story of Johnnie Mae, a young black girl living in Georgetown in the early twentieth century. The book begins with the accidental drowning death of her younger sister Clara and continues through the next year. There really isn't much of a plot, it simply explores the continuation of the lives of those who lose someone they love.

The book was quite engaging and I loved the beautiful lyrical prose. Although the story largely follows Johnnie Mae in the aftermath of her y
Lisa Johnson
I thought the writing was excellent, I learned a lot about the history of the Georgetown section of a Washington, D.C. but the story left me wanting more. Had the book since it first came out in the '90s but just read it because it was a book club selection.
Shellys♥ Journal
This story takes place in the black section of Georgetown in the 1920s. Johnnie Rae Byrum is a 12 yo girl who loses track of her young sister Clara at the Potomoc River and the young girl drowns. The drowning affects the entire family and looms in the background with every move they make in the coming year. The book gives life to a whole neighborhood of intriguing people, and a whole way of life that has been lost.

I liked much of the story, but at times it seemed to disconnect from itself. It t
Elizabeth Mosley
This book was just ok. There isn't much plot. The most interesting thing about the book is the depiction of African American life and culture in Washington, D.C. during the first quarter of the 20th century.
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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.” 9 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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