Review: River Sing Me Home, Eleanor Shearer

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Review: River Sing Me Home, Eleanor ShearerRiver Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer
Published by Berkley Books on January 31, 2023
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: E-Book, eBook
Source: Library
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Goodreads
four-half-stars

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 is well-researched and intriguing. It could be just my ignorance, but I haven’t seen many historical fiction books dealing with the “end” of slavery in the Caribbean and South America. I love it when a work of historical fiction prompts me to research the events it describes. My main issue was that in a book about storytelling, so much of the story was “told” rather than shown. That’s necessary because Rachel is not present to experience her children’s stories when she finds them, but something is lacking in the writing that doesn’t quite raise the book to five stars. I wanted Rachel to find all her children, but each time the reunion relied entirely on sheer coincidence. Perhaps the most jarring example was when Rachel found Cherry Jane simply by passing by a building and seeing her in the window. As hard as it is for Rachel to find her children, it’s also a bit too easy—the sad reality is that Rachel most likely would not have to accomplish the task of finding all her children at the time when the novel is set, so the novel feels a bit more like wish fulfillment than reality. That’s not necessarily something I mind—it’s fiction after all, but I want to be able to immerse myself in the story a bit more. I felt the story was compelling enough that it should be more than four stars. The story was propulsive enough to keep me engaged when I was reading the book, but I didn’t have much trouble putting the book down for long stretches. I even had to renew it from the library after checking it out for 21 days, and it’s always a sign to me that something is off when a story this engaging still winds up being difficult for me to finish. Truthfully, I might have given the novel less than 4.5 stars—probably 3 or 3.5 stars—if the plot and characters had been less engaging and if the novel had not offered an opportunity to learn about a historical period and setting I knew little about.

four-half-stars

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