I am not surprised that River, Cross My Heart made it into Oprah's Book Club. It is different than some of her other suggestions, but worth the read.
The tone of this book is set by the drowning death of a young girl named Clara Bynum. Right before Clara died, she was watching her older sister, Johnnie Mae, and her friends swim in the dangerous and forbidden river. Johnnie Mae is the first person to realize that Clara is missing from the river bank.
The story deals with the impact of Clara's death on Johnnie Mae, the rest of the family and the community overall in 1920's Georgetown.
Though Clara's death sets the story's tone, there is an underlying sub-plot in River, Cross My Heart. Breena Clarke has done a wonderful job describing the life of black citizens during this moment in time. Alice Bynum, the matriarch, compares her current life in the North with her previous life in the South. Johnnie Mae struggles to comprehend why she is excluded from the sparkling "whites only" public swimming pool.
There is enough symbolism in this book to arouse 1,000 spinster English teachers. Water is quite a powerful character, here. Ms. Clarke describes the river so well you can see it, taste it, smell it, fear it and be drawn to it just as the characters are.
I can see why some people may dislike River, Cross My Heart, Who wants to read about death? However, I found so much more in this book than just a story about a young girl's accidental drowning.
I admire Oprah for choosing River, Cross My Heart as an "Oprah Book Club" recommendation. Why? Because it is different. It isn't your basic love story. It isn't about the happy roaring 20's, rather the Georgetown 20's.
Readers who are hungry for something different will enjoy River, Cross My Heart. However, if you prefer safe, happy books, you should probably make another selection.
To have Oprah's recommendation on a book is to have an instant best seller. I'll admit I picked up this book because her name was on the front. I am glad I did.