“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.
“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