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River, Cross My Heart

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  12,614 ratings  ·  280 reviews
The acclaimed bestseller--a selection of Oprah's Book Club--that brings vividly to life the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, circa 1925, a community reeling from a young girl's tragic death.

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 Hear
Paperback, 245 pages
Published October 1st 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published July 1st 1999)
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3.48  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,614 ratings  ·  280 reviews

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Nov 19, 2009 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 24, 2010 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
Dec 22, 2008 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...
Keyshia Dorsey
Sep 02, 2014 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.
Lucinda Porter
Aug 28, 2011 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.
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: realistic, prose
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
Oct 06, 2009 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
Apr 29, 2009 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.
Sep 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Hard to stay with at firsrt. Then it was a page turner. Ending, I didn't get.
Kate Gray
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Shirley Graf
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Victoria Smith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 02, 2014 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
Sep 10, 2014 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
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
Dec 28, 2013 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
Emily Adams
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
May 08, 2011 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marin Thomas
Sep 18, 2014 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 08, 2016 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.
Debi Kermeen
Jul 10, 2012 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~
Jan 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
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.
Interesting coming of age story with incite into black culture of the 1920s. Though the plot was rather simplistic, it did hold my attention.
Martha Alami
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I very much enjoyed the author's writing style and her portrayal of Georgetown during the 1920s. Having been to Georgetown many times, I was not aware of the black history and I found it very insightful. Today with its many boutique shops, restaurants, bars and housing for the elite, it seems to have changed quite a bit. I enjoyed the descriptions of the town in another era, when black families lived there, seeking a better life than country life and forming communities filled with their own cul ...more
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Johnnie Mae Bynum was the older sister to Clara, and therefore was charged with her care when her mother was not available. A natural swimmer herself, Johnnie Mae can't keep away from water, and therefore enters the Potomac River one hot day. Clara watches at first, but then drops into the water. Unfortunately, she drowns.

Johnnie Mae expects hard questions. Why was she at the river when she had been told not to go there? What happened? But the story her mother hears, from those who were there,
May 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Just not a favorite of mine. Somewhat disjointed, I didn't feel like I got to know any of the characters intimately, except perhaps Johnnie May.

There was one beautiful paragraph that deeply struck me. Johnnie May, the teen-aged daughter of Alice, had wandered away from her family at a community picnic. She had seen her mother looking for someone, but had no idea that SHE was that person. "She had thought that as long as she could see her mother--feel her mother--scent her mother--she was within
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bought-new, gave-away
Maybe it's just the nature of these retrospective book reviews but, again, it's the circumstances of reading that come back to me rather than the actual book itself. Other than a very dramatic and evocative pivotal drowining scene (no spoiler, really, I believe it's on the blurb) and the gut-wrenching portrayal of disgusting racism, the book is fairly forgettable. What is memorable is my date with myself, where I was reading this, starting with a lovely solo meal in Sarti, followed by a fabulous ...more
A book basically about a young coloured girl growing up in 1920s America. Tragedy strikes the Bynum family when six-year-old Clara drowns while in the care of her older sister Johnnie Mae...& Johnnie Mae has to come to terms with the loss of her sister.
It's one of those stories that keeps you entertained but somehow seems to be about nothing in particular - the only thing I recall in any detail about it is Johnnie Mae's obsession with the white childrens swimming pool.
I enjoyed it - but f
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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
“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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