Legends abound that the Potomac River is a widowmaker, a childtaker, and a woman-swallower. According to the most famous tale, the river has already swallowed three sisters--three Catholic nuns. Yet it did not swallow them, only drowned them and belched them back up in the form of three small rock islands. They lie halfway between one shore and the other, each with a wimple made of seabirds' wings.
The Three Sisters is a landmark. When you say the Three Sisters, people know you're going to tell about something that happened on the river to cause grief. And it isn't really clear whether it's the boulders or the river at that spot that causes the grief. Nobody in his right mind goes swimming near the Three Sisters. The river has hands for sure at this spot. Maybe even the three nuns themselves, beneath the water's surface, are grabbing ankles to pull down some company.
--From River, Cross My Heart
A remarkable new writer makes her debut with a novel of tragedy and triumph in the life of an African American family in Georgetown, circa 1925.
Eight-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 and their children; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara's sister, twelve-year-old Johnnie Mae, who must come to terms with the powerful and confused emotions sparked by her sister's death as she struggles to decide and discover the kind of woman she will become.
This highly accomplished first novel resonates with ideas, impassioned lyricism, and poignant historical detail as it captures an essential part of the African American experience in our century.