Swift River: A Read with Jenna Pick (Hardcover)

Swift River: A Read with Jenna Pick By Essie Chambers Cover Image
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June 2024 Indie Next List

Swift River will be canon for those who want to learn more about biracial experiences. Essie Chambers thoughtfully pulls the curtain back on coming of age with a parent who loves you but, due to race, is incapable of understanding your experience.”
— Destinee Hodge, East City Bookshop, Washington, DC


A READ WITH JENNA TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK | A National Bestseller | A Most Anticipated Book from Today, Real Simple, Time, Los Angeles Times, and BookPage

“The book we all need to revive our souls” (Nicole Dennis-Benn): A sweeping family saga about the complicated bond between mothers and daughters, the disappearance of a father, and the long-hidden history of a declining New England mill town.

“A powerful novel about how our family history shapes us. Swift River broke my heart, and then offered me hope.”Ann Napolitano, New York Times bestselling author of Hello Beautiful

It’s the summer of 1987 in Swift River, and Diamond Newberry is learning how to drive. Ever since her Pop disappeared seven years ago, she and her mother hitchhike everywhere they go. But that’s not the only reason Diamond stands out: she’s teased relentlessly about her weight, and since Pop’s been gone, she is the only Black person in all of Swift River. This summer, Ma is determined to declare Pop legally dead so that they can collect his life insurance money, get their house back from the bank, and finally move on.

But when Diamond receives a letter from a relative she’s never met, key elements of Pop’s life are uncovered, and she is introduced to two generations of African American Newberry women, whose lives span the 20th century and reveal a much larger picture of prejudice and abandonment, of love and devotion. As pieces of their shared past become clearer, Diamond gains a sense of her place in the world and in her family. But how will what she’s learned of the past change her future?

A story of first friendships, family secrets, and finding the courage to let go, Swift River is a sensational debut about how history shapes us and heralds the arrival of a major new literary talent.

About the Author

Essie Chambers earned her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Vermont Studio Center, and Baldwin for the Arts. A former film and television executive, she was a producer on the documentary Descendant, which was released by the Obamas’ Higher Ground production company and Netflix in 2022. Swift River is her debut novel. 

Praise For…

A Most Anticipated Book from Time, Real Simple, Los Angeles Times and Today

“A sparkling debut about a young girl you’ll never forget…. Chambers weaves irony and gut-punch emotion throughout this gorgeous debut. With the smart and curious Diamond at its vibrant center, “Swift River” has a real sense of humor…. Swift River shimmers and shines with acute observations and carefully crafted lines…. The book brims with gemlike sentences, striking imagery, metaphors and juxtapositions…. Deceptively naturalistic and lyrical rather than showy, Chambers has produced a rare and rewarding thing: a fast-moving novel that you want to slow down and savor.”—Washington Post

“A heartbreaking, yet hopeful coming of age story about the high cost of family secrets.”—Time

“Poetic and propulsive.”—NPR

“An intimate family tale full of grace, beauty and humor.”—Elle 
“Rich and insightful…. Chambers is particularly skilled at depicting the way frustration and affection intertwine…. A frank examination of family mystery and loss, set in a landscape of economic and racial turmoil.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Chambers’ funny debut is set in a 1980s New England mill town in decline. Seven years after her father’s disappearance, Diamond Newberry and her mother are struggling, but Diamond’s observations provide comic leavening. During the summer of 1987, her mom files to have Pop declared dead, which is when things get complicated. Diamond receives a letter from an unknown relative, which starts her on a path to learn her family — and the nation’s — history.”—The Los Angeles Times

“A deeply moving portrayal of a girl you will absolutely fall for and cheer on through every scene of this remarkable debut.”—Real Simple

“A captivating debut. Infused with the bright and vulnerable voice of its young narrator, Swift River unspools a poignant coming-of-age story about hard and hopeful truths.”Esquire

"Astonishing.... In Swift River, Chambers illuminates how the sprawling, twisted branches of our family trees traverse both genealogy and time—tracing not just ancestral lineages but history writ large."--The Nation

"Riveting.... Swift River takes a deep dive into the psychological and historical trauma that accompanied living and navigating in a “sundown town”, family secrets, and more."--Essence

“Insightful, moving, and wryly funny, Chambers’ debut is sure to be a book club favorite.”—Booklist, starred review

“This novel’s assured plotting and emotional resonance should render it a breakout book. Call your book club: This symphonic debut is your next read.”—Kirkus

“A poignant coming-of-age story about a Black girl growing up in a predominantly white New England town north of Boston in 1987…. Chambers’s assured first novel sings.”—Publishers Weekly

"Readers are transported to 1987 New England in Essie Chambers’ captivating debut novel. Ever since her Pop disappeared, Diamond Newberry is the only Black person in all of Swift River. But when she gets a letter from a relative she’s never met with insight into Pop’s life, she’s introduced to two generations of African American Newberry women. As Diamond uncovers the past, how will it change her future?"--Woman's World

“A mesmerizing account of inherited trauma in what was once a sundown town. Diamond is a gutsy girl with a keen intellect and an irrepressible, hopeful outlook, and her often-humorous narration is the novel’s cen­tral, propelling force. Chambers masterfully delivers the message of Swift River: ‘Our instincts, our deepest intuitions, are really our ances­tral memory; our people speaking through us.’”—BookPage

“Darkly funny and fiery, heartbreaking and healing, with language so gorgeous I went back to read sentences again and again. What a beautiful debut.”—JACQUELINE WOODSON, National Book Award winning author

“In the tradition of all great mother-daughter stories, Swift River is complicated, frank, yet infused with that satisfying feeling one gets when you realize the missing piece to the puzzle is a sense of self. Page by beautifully vibrant page, Swift River comes at you in whirring Kodachrome snapshots of memory, classic rock, and hidden New England lore. A sensational debut.”—PAUL BEATTY, author of Man Booker Award winning novel The Sellout

“A powerful novel about how our family history shapes us; it is only when Diamond learns about the women that came before her—their strengths and losses mirroring her own—that she can finally imagine a better future for herself. Swift River broke my heart, and then offered me hope.”—ANN NAPOLITANO, New York Times bestselling author of Hello Beautiful

“Truly amazing. Such an incredible blend of intimate and epic, so smart and funny and honest and generous-spirited. I like plenty of books but I love a novel this much maybe just once or twice a year.”—CURTIS SITTENFELD, New York Times bestselling author of Romantic Comedy

“Swift River is the book we all need to revive our souls. It’s told with such grace, humor, and above all, heart. I could follow Diamond and her captivating journey forever. It’s heartbreaking. It’s beautiful. This epic novel deserves all the attention in the world. A must read!” —NICOLE DENNIS-BENN, award-winning author of Patsy and Here Comes the Sun 

Swift River is a tender coming-of-age novel, a story of grief both personal and historical, one told with warmth and humor by a memorable, irrepressible heroine. Essie Chambers writes powerfully about the bonds of family, the many ways people fail and save one another, and the human instinct for resilience.”—RUMAAN ALAM, author of National Book Award finalist Leave the World Behind

Swift River is a fearless, cinematic exploration of loss and inheritance, written with fierce urgency and overflowing compassion. From the very first image of river-mud-caked shoes, Diamond’s story—part coming of age, part epistolarian excavation of grief— instantly pulled me in and held me close through an addicting mix of hope and suspense.”—XOCHITL GONZALEZ, New York Times bestselling author of Olga Dies Dreaming

“Essie Chambers masterfully weaves this story together, building characters and worlds so real I felt pangs of nostalgia while turning the pages. This is a voice I’d follow anywhere.” —DAWNIE WALTON, author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

Product Details
ISBN: 9781668027912
ISBN-10: 1668027917
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 4th, 2024
Pages: 304
Language: English