cover image Swift River

Swift River

Essie Chambers. Simon & Schuster, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-6680-2791-2

Chambers debuts with a poignant coming-of-age story about a Black girl growing up in a predominantly white New England town north of Boston in 1987. It’s the summer before Diamond Newberry’s junior year of high school, and she and her Irish American mother, Annabelle, have been struggling to make ends meet since her father, Robert, disappeared seven years ago, when only his shoes and wallet were found on the side of the river. Knowing Annabelle would disapprove, Diamond secretly works at a motel to save money for driver’s ed lessons. After she befriends fellow student Shelly Ostrowski, the two begin making plans to move to Florida together following graduation. Diamond’s impulse to start a new life is driven partly by her mother’s continued struggle to obtain a death certificate for Robert, which they need for the life insurance benefit, and by Annabelle’s hurtful scrutiny. While plotting to leave, Diamond also exchanges letters with her father’s cousin Clara, who raised him. From Clara, Diamond learns more about the Black side of her family, and why they left town for Canada. Tension mounts as Diamond struggles to find a way forward and her bond with Annabelle stretches to its breaking point. Adding to the story’s depth are complex characterizations and intriguing epistolary interjections from Clara. Chambers’s assured first novel sings. Agent: Julie Barer, Book Group. (June)