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Swift River: A Novel
Essie Chambers


A READ WITH JENNA TODAY SHOW BOOK CLUB PICK | A Most Anticipated Book from Today, Real Simple, Time, Los Angeles Times, and BookPage

“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.


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. 


A Most Anticipated Book from Time, Real Simple, Los Angeles Times and Today

“A heartbreaking, yet hopeful coming of age story about the high cost of family secrets.” -- Time

“Rich and insightful…. Chambers is particularly skilled at depicting the way frustration and affection intertwine…. A frank examination of family mystery and loss, set in a landscape of economic and racial turmoil.” -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Chambers’ funny debut is set in a 1980s New England mill town in decline. Seven years after her father’s disappearance, Diamond Newberry and her mother are struggling, but Diamond’s observations provide comic leavening. During the summer of 1987, her mom files to have Pop declared dead, which is when things get complicated. Diamond receives a letter from an unknown relative, which starts her on a path to learn her family — and the nation’s — history.” -- The Los Angeles Times

“A deeply moving portrayal of a girl you will absolutely fall for and cheer on through every scene of this remarkable debut.” -- Real Simple

“Insightful, moving, and wryly funny, Chambers’ debut is sure to be a book club favorite.” -- Booklist, starred review

“This novel’s assured plotting and emotional resonance should render it a breakout book. Call your book club: This symphonic debut is your next read.” -- Kirkus

“A poignant coming-of-age story about a Black girl growing up in a predominantly white New England town north of Boston in 1987…. Chambers’s assured first novel sings.” -- Publishers Weekly

[H]  Simon & Schuster  /  June 04, 2024

1.3" H x 9.0" L x 6.0" W (1.05 lbs) 304 pages