Reviews of River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer

River Sing Me Home

by Eleanor Shearer

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer X
River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 336 pages

    Aug 1, 2023, 352 pages


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Book Summary

Rare. Moving. Powerful. This beautiful, page-turning and redemptive story of a mother's gripping journey across the Caribbean to find her stolen children in the aftermath of slavery is a remarkable debut.

The Good Morning America Book Club Pick for February 2023.

Her search begins with an ending.…

The master of the Providence plantation in Barbados gathers his slaves and announces the king has decreed an end to slavery. As of the following day, the Emancipation Act of 1834 will come into effect. The cries of joy fall silent when he announces that they are no longer his slaves; they are now his apprentices. No one can leave. They must work for him for another six years. Freedom is just another name for the life they have always lived. So Rachel runs.

Away from Providence, she begins a desperate search to find her children—the five who survived birth and were sold. Are any of them still alive? Rachel has to know. The grueling, dangerous journey takes her from Barbados then, by river, deep into the forest of British Guiana and finally across the sea to Trinidad. She is driven on by the certainty that a mother cannot be truly free without knowing what has become of her children, even if the answer is more than she can bear. These are the stories of Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy. But above all this is the story of Rachel and the extraordinary lengths to which a mother will go to find her children...and her freedom.

River Sing Me Home

The soil on the island was fertile, but everything laid down shallow roots. When the hurricanes came, they ripped up even the sturdiest trees; and when the white men came, they tore children out of their mothers' arms. And so, we learned to live without hope. For us, loss was the only thing that was certain.

Many of us had already lost one home. A home of deep roots and of ancestors delved down into history. Those roots did not save us. Those roots rotted in the hulls of the slave ships, in darkness and filth. We had little left to plant in the new world, and whatever we had was the white men's for the taking. So we tried to live only on the island's surface. We planted cane, but nothing of our own. Mothers turned their heads when a baby was born, refusing to meet its eyes.

We tried to glide through this half-life, this life without history or future, but our endless present had ways of stretching itself out, lying across time, until our lives had movement ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. "Rachel did not mind that she lacked Hope's hard outlines and clear sense of self. That was how she had chosen to survive—by letting little pieces of herself fall away without resistance." What do you make of Rachel's character and of her attitude to survival? Do you think her attitude changes during the novel?
  2. What does Rachel's journey say about motherhood? What do you think Rachel learns about being a mother over the course of the novel?
  3. Each of Rachel's children chooses a different path out of slavery. Are they all, in some sense, free? Are some paths better than others?
  4. Lots of characters in this novel get a chance to tell small fragments of their stories. Why might this telling be important? What role do these stories play ...
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BookBrowse Review


The descriptions of people and places are compelling. Like the film director Alfred Hitchcock, the author is a genius, providing just enough description and then letting your imagination fill in details to complete the imagery. This technique can make an event more emotional and compelling than if the author used five more paragraphs of description (Mary S). River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer is inspired by the true stories of the brave women who went looking for their stolen children after the abolition of slavery in 1834. I love reading historical fiction, respect history and I'm grateful to have learned about this time in the past (Cindy R)...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A woman travels the Caribbean in search of her children after she's escaped from slavery in Shearer's lyrical and deeply evocative debut... In scenes of vivid horror, stirring resilience, and moving reconciliation, Shearer shows the cruel effects of slavery and its aftermath. The beautifully written depiction of a mother longing for her children makes this transcendent.

[A] moving testament to a mother's love.

Kirkus Reviews
A formerly enslaved mother's search for her lost children is emotionally diluted by lack of craft.

Author Blurb Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars
A searing debut full of love, loss, and the shadows of the past, River Sing Me Home is rich, lyrical, and full of heart. The talented Eleanor Shearer's research skills are matched by the depth of emotion with which she writes, and the result is heartbreaking, hopeful, and unforgettable. Both a powerful ode to the endless depths of a mother's love and an important meditation on what freedom really means, this is the kind of book that will stay with readers for years to come.

Author Blurb Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Personal Librarian
A powerful novel that explores how freedom and family are truly defined.

Author Blurb Sadeqa Johnson, international bestselling author of The House of Eve and Yellow Wife
A stunning debut with poetic language and real characters that lock themselves in your heart. Full of emotion and sheer determination, River Sing Me Home is a fine example of the will and strength of the Black women who fought and clawed themselves and their loved one from the evil clutches of slavery. We stand on their shoulders and this book honors them all.

Reader Reviews

Linda K. (Sunset, SC)

River Sing Me Home
Loved the central figure of the story, Rachel, a slave on a plantation, from page one. I truly felt that I was on her journey to find her five children that had been taken from her either by force or stolen in her absence. Each child was so special ...   Read More
Dee Dee (Incline Village, NV)

A part of history that you may not be familiar with
I was attracted to reading this book because of its place. I spent 10 years sailing the Caribbean basin in a sailboat, getting to know the people and the cultures. I was looking for the essence of the islands and Eleanor Shearer captured it ...   Read More
Beverly J. (Hoover, AL)

Smart, Original, & Completely Captivating
A keenly observed lyrical historical novel about an enslaved mother's resolve to search for her five children sold away from her. When the plantation master in Barbados announces in one breath that The Emancipation Act of 1834 abolishes slavery ...   Read More
Rita H. (Centennial, CO)

A Mother's Love
The story of slavery in the Carribbean has only recently entered my knowledge base and this book expanded that to the searches that former slaves made to find the children who had been sold away from them. Rachel has been a slave all her life and has...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Abolition of Slavery in the Caribbean

Photograph of Emancipation Statue in Barbados, showing figure with broken chains dangling from wrists The Slavery Abolition Act, also known as the Emancipation Act, was an act of Parliament that legally abolished slavery in most British colonies. The act received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833, and took effect the following year on August 1. In Eleanor Shearer's debut novel, River Sing Me Home, this event serves as a catalyst for the plot, which follows Rachel, a previously enslaved woman in Barbados, on a journey she undertakes after abolition to find her five children who were sold away from her.

The main aim of the act was to dismantle the plantation system in the Caribbean. The evolving international economy had rendered the sugar production industry in the region less efficient and profitable in recent years. There was also ...

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