Wade in the Water

Amistad: HarperCollins. Jan. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780063226616. $27.99. F
DEBUT Set in Ricksville, MS, a small rural town still gripped by racial divisions in 1982, this debut novel draws heavily upon Mississippi’s sordid past of social injustice and racist violence. Ella, an 11-year-old Black girl, dominates the story. The darkest-skinned child among her siblings and child of her mother’s affair with someone other than her shiftless, abusive stepfather, Ella is the target of her family’s hatred and neglect. She shares a complex narrative space with Katherine St. James, a white woman who has moved from Princeton to live among Ricksville’s Black community, explaining that she is doing graduate research on the impact of the civil rights movement on both Black and white Americans. Katherine befriends young Ella, and their mentor relationship badly impacts Ella’s already shaky status within her community. As Ella pushes to know more of the white woman’s past and the motivations for her research, secrets emerge that threaten to sunder their connection.
VERDICT With expert character development, Nkrumah gives memorable voice to a young woman struggling to overcome familial abuse and find her way in the world. A strength of this novel is how sharply different Katherine’s portrayal is compared with white characters in novels like Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. For readers who enjoyed Alice Walker’s Meridian and Jas Hammonds’s YA novel We Deserve Monuments.
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