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BookBrowse Reviews Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah

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Wade in the Water

A Novel

by Nyani Nkrumah

Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah X
Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2024, 368 pages

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A remarkable coming-of-age debut set in the Deep South during the 1980s

BookBrowse First Impression readers gave Nyani Nkrumah's debut novel, Wade in the Water, an impressive rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

What the book's about:

Wade in the Water is a thought-provoking story about an unusual friendship between an 11-year-old Black child and a white graduate student who rents a house in a poor Black neighborhood, ostensibly to research the impact of the Civil Rights Movement for her thesis (Susan M). It is 1982, and Ella lives in the small town of Ricksville, Mississippi with her mother and siblings. Although precocious, she's mistreated by her family (including her stepfather who makes an appearance only when he needs money), partly due to her very dark skin, so unlike theirs. When Katherine St. James moves into a nearby home, she's greeted with suspicion. No one can understand why a white woman would willingly dwell among Blacks; she must certainly be up to something. Ella alone befriends her, and as she tries to find a way to gain Katherine the town's acceptance, she discovers the woman is not who she believed her to be. Flashbacks to Katherine's childhood in the 1960s fill in the gaps in her history (Kim K). The novel is a well-written, bittersweet story of how decades-old racism and colorism continue to impact the lives of Black people and white people in a small Southern community (Melanie B).

Many reviewers were impressed that the book was Nkrumah's first:

My favorite books are always debut novels and this is one of the best (Mary O). I found myself surprised that this is the first she's written (Beth W).

The plot struck home with some:

Having spent a great deal of my youth growing up in the Deep South in the sixties, the story line itself was very familiar to me and, I think, fairly presented (Vicki C). I was a young teen in Atlanta during the early 1960s, and the Civil Rights movement made a tremendous impression on me. Wade in the Water took me back there, made me think, and stayed with me long after I turned the last page (Beth W). I was prepared to not like this book before I read the first page. Having grown up in the South in the late fifties, I lived this era so I am wary of authors who get it wrong. This book, however, delivers unique believability (Leslie R).

Several readers mentioned the important themes the author explores:

This moving coming of age story handles tough topics like racism, prejudice, color lines and sexual abuse (Wendy P). It is also about the secrets we keep from others and from ourselves, as well as the lenses through which we view others, often influenced by our families, friends and culture (Mary S). The story is uncomfortably raw at times as the atrocities of the Jim Crow South are revisited. The author asks not only how the civil rights movement changed Black society but also how it changed white society (Betty T).

Nkrumah's writing style was a highlight:

The author's writing is incredibly vibrant and engaging (Mary S), and her descriptions are very cinematic. (Susan B). The writing flows smoothly and paints a striking picture of the rural segregated community of Ricksville, Mississippi (Betty T). The alternating chapters between Ella and Katherine are extremely effective in adding tension and nuanced layers to the developing story (Debbie G).

And most agreed that the author's three-dimensional characters were particularly compelling:

Vivid characters and voices abound…they leap off the page (Susan B). I love stories that feature a precocious old-soul child, and Ella is one of the best examples I've come across in quite a while (Beth W). She's a character who immediately captured my heart. She's fiercely intelligent, curious, gives new meaning to the idea of having a close and personal relationship with her God and most of all, she has a magnificent, beautiful spirit (Darlene B). This is a book with characters who will live on with you long after the last page is read (Mary S).

But not everyone was a fan:

Wade in the Water is not an easy book to read…It was a painful discussion of racism. It was a peek into a family that treated their children with violence and attempts at incest. I wanted to put it down, unread, but I did like the main character and hoped all would somehow turn out well for her (Janet H). I think perhaps the author was a bit too ambitious in this novel (Darlene B). I thought the pages of this book needed some loving editing (Virginia N).

The majority, however, thought it was a page-turner:

The novel grabbed me from the start and kept me in its thrall to the end. Highly recommended (Paula K). I could not put this down once I started (Susan B). This is a heart wrenching story that should be read by all (Mary W). Those wishing to peruse a good history-based novel should find this book to be an interesting read. (Susan M). A captivating and vivid portrait of our turbulent past, and its characters will stay with you (Susan B). I found this to be a worthwhile, thought-provoking book. I gained some perspectives I hadn't previously considered about slavery, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and the impact of these eras on individuals in more recent times (Marian Y). I was so incredibly impressed by this book! I would say it is the best story I have received from BookBrowse so far. I was engaged from the very beginning, and read through it much quicker than I typically do with this genre (Kylie W). I turned the final pages of this novel, Wade in the Water, several days ago and I find that I can't stop thinking about the story (Darlene B).

In short, reviewers overwhelmingly recommend Wade in the Water

A must read for all! (Mary O). I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially for someone looking to gain perspective on racial inequities and the civil rights movement (Kylie W). I recommend this book to anyone seeking to broaden their understanding of our country's racial history (Marian Y). This would be an excellent book to discuss at book clubs (Jessica F). While the book features a pre-teen protagonist, due to some of the content in the book, I believe it is best suited to an older teen/adult audience with trigger warnings for abuse (Marian Y).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in March 2023, and has been updated for the February 2024 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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