"The River, Cross My Heart author returns with an affecting story about two freed slaves living in Washington, D.C., before the Civil War, struggling to stay alive—and help others escape—in a land that won't protect them."

People Magazine

"I loved this book. I loved these people: The Coats family of Stand the Storm are quasi-free Negroes living in Georgetown just before, during and after the Civil War. Breena Clarke has written another stirring work of historical fiction that weaves the passionate, dramatic and uplifting story of the African American aspiration for true freedom into the great American tapestry.

A central theme of Stand the Storm is the Coatses' struggle to forge new identities and free themselves from the legacy of slavery. On the Ridley plantation, female slaves were "generally called by a variation of the name Ann." Annie's first gesture of freedom, while still a slave, was to name her daughter Ellen. In her first moment of joy at belonging to herself, she changed her name from Sewing Annie to Annie Coats. Later, she recommends that fresh start to her son's wife, too. When Carrie was a slave, she had been nearly beaten to death by her mistress because she was raped by the master. "Commence calling yourself Mary then," Annie tells her. "It will make a change." What happened to Carrie, the slave, has nothing to do with the self-liberated new person, Mary.

This is a novel about identity, about the power of talent and about freedom and constriction in life. Clarke writes in a deceptively simple and subtle style, with an almost perfect sense of period and history.

Clearly, there were many people like the Coats family -- determined to be free to carve their own piece of the American dream. We all know stories of the great black exceptions, but Breena Clarke writes about ordinary people who happen to be exceptional."

— Gail Buckley, The Washingon Post Book World

“After her Oprah-pick debut (River, Cross My Heart, 1999), an African-American novelist delivers a compassionate portrait of the terrors and hopes of slaves. With its slightly clipped period language, coolly measured tone and rich supply of telling detail, Breena Clarke’s second novel delves into a compelling social panorama of black servitude in Washington, D.C., as the Civil War begins. The story winds through the war (with Gabriel Coats fighting alongside the colored troops) to reach a sober conclusion that nevertheless heralds change. Clarke’s sensitivity and her lyrical, earthy narration bring a freshness to the somber subject matter.”

Kirkus (starred)

“Breena Clarke returns with a bittersweet slavery-era saga, partially set—like her smash 1999 Oprah-pick, River, Cross My Heart—in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown. Clarke gets the details—emotional, political, domestic, religious—right across the board and crafts complex and appealing characters. Her knowledge of the period and the novel's dense, deliberate narrative create a poignant story about the intricacies of human bondage and its dissolution, built around a family's unshakable faith in one another.”

Publishers Weekly (starred)

“In this story of a slave family buying its freedom, Clarke illuminates and personalizes a dreadful part of our nation’s past. Skilled needleworker Sewing Annie at Ridley Plantation in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, trains her son, Gabriel, so well that at the age of 10, he’s hired out to a tailor in Georgetown (also the site of Clarke’s best-selling debut River, Cross My Heart, 1999). Gabriel is successful enough to buy manumission in 1854 for himself and his family, a bargain abrogated by crafty Jonathan Ridley in 1862 when District of Columbia slaves are decreed free with their owners eligible for compensation. This is a vivid view of slavery.”


“The perfect moment is everything in Breena Clarke's fictional universe. In her second novel, Stand the Storm she deftly tackles such issues as knowng when to flee a troubled situation and deciding on how to show one's true feelings. Fans of Clarke's first effort, River, Cross My Heart, will instantly recognize the author's poetic sentences and the powerful emotional scenes that leave us breathless. Clarke takes us back to antebellum Washington, D.C. where we follow seamstress heroine Sewing Annie Coats, her handsome son, Gabriel, and her quiet daughter, Ellen as they navigate a winding path from enslavement to an uncertain fate. "I hope the novel will speak to the complex circumstances for African-American women in the city of Washington at that time," says Clarke, a D.C. native, "because there was more than one slavery experience and more than one freedom experience." She effortlessly evokes several with the kind of grace and grit that will leave you grateful for her long-awaited return.”

Essence magazine