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Reviews for Wade in the water

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

In 1982, a White stranger comes to a Black rural town to research the aftermath of the civil rights movement—while concealing her own connection to it. Twelve-year-old Ella is by far the darkest-skinned person in her family, and everyone in Ricksville, Mississippi, knows it's because she is not the daughter of her mother's footloose husband, Leroy. Leroy abuses her emotionally, physically, and sexually whenever he's in town and even forbids her siblings from treating her as family. With her only ally an old, blind man named Mr. Macabe, she falls easily into an unusual friendship with newcomer Katherine St. James, a Princeton graduate student. St. James used to be Kate Summerville, daughter of a notorious Mississippi Ku Klux Klan leader who fled North with his family in the 1960s to escape justice. He went on to commit another horrific act in Boston, driving his daughter over the brink of sanity. After a stint in a mental institution, Kate emerged with a new name and a vow to devote herself to the academic study of the civil rights movement. When a Black Princeton professor warns her that she's "shut the door on a cupboard full of hate" and that unless she does some real cleaning, "some of that hate’s going to come crawling out," she decides to return to Mississippi and base her research there, though she goes by her changed name and does not acknowledge her roots. Either way, nobody wants a thing to do with her except poor ostracized Ella, and the story proceeds, sometimes slowly, sometimes wildly and melodramatically, from there. What looks like it could be a narrative of atonement and redemption is turned completely on its head in the final chapters, as more details on Katherine's involvement with her father are presented—some to the community, some only to the reader. Nkrumah seems to agree with Faulkner, who said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." She leaves us without resolution on the fate of the would-be White savior but gives Ella some of the experience of fatherly love she craves, both emotionally and spiritually. A furious look at the long tail of Jim Crow, with lively writing and a well-drawn setting. A promising debut. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.