Resonant with the emotional urgency of Alice Walker’s classic Meridian and the poignant charm of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, a gripping debut novel of female power and vulnerability, race, and class that explores the unlikely friendship between a precocious black girl and a mysterious white woman in a small Mississippi town in the early 1980s.
Set in 1982, in rural, racially divided Ricksville, Mississippi Wade in the Water tells the story of Ella, a black, unloved, precocious eleven-year-old, and Ms. St. James, a mysterious white woman from Princeton who appears in Ella’s community to carry out some research. Soon, Ms. St. James befriends Ella, who is willing to risk everything to keep her new friend in a town that does not want her there. The relationship between Ella and Ms. St. James, at times loving and funny and other times tense and cautious, becomes more fraught and complex as Ella unwittingly pushes at Ms. St. James’s carefully constructed boundaries that guard a complicated past, and dangerous secrets that could have devastating consequences.
Told in two voices, Ella’s and Ms. St. James’s, and set around richly developed characters, this riveting, page turning coming of age story will keep readers entranced until the last shocking revelation.
Nyani Nkrumah was born in Boston and raised in Ghana and Zimbabwe. She developed her love of reading and writing from her mother, who taught English Literature and Language and encouraged her children to recite poems and Shakespeare soliloquies. After graduating from Amherst College with a dual major in Biology and Black Studies, Nkrumah received her master’s at the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. She has lived in the Washington, DC, region for the past twenty years.
Nkrumah’s stunning debut revolves around an unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old Black girl and a middle-aged white woman in 1982 Ricksville, Miss., and the segregated town’s fraught history. Intelligent, questioning Ella stands out in her light-skinned Black family because she is the result of her mother’s fling with a much darker-skinned man. Her ne’er-do-well stepfather Leroy is seldom home, but when he is, he takes out his rage and humiliation by sexually abusing Ella, while her mother treats her with contempt and frequent whippings. Meanwhile, a white Princeton University professor named Katherine St. James, who was raised in Mississippi, stirs things up when she moves into the Black half of town for a research project. Though it’s been almost 20 years since the killings of three voting-rights activists nearby, the case remains unsolved and racial tensions still run high. Against this backdrop, Katherine becomes a tutor and mother figure to the love-starved Ella, but as shocking revelations emerge about Katherine’s past in 1960s Mississippi, Nkrumah leads readers to reflect on the limits of the professor’s good intentions. The author is supremely gifted at bringing both her characters and their close-knit rural town to life. Readers will eagerly await more from this writer. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. -- Publishers Weekly
In rural, segregated 1982 Ricksville, MS, a Black 11-year-old named Ella—smart but unwanted by family and town—befriends Ms. St. James, a white woman from Princeton there to do research. Ella needs Ms. St. James so desperately that she unintentionally pushes up against secrets from Ms. St. James's past, with terrible consequences. From U.S.-born, Ghana and Zimbabwe—raised Nkrumah. -- Library Journal
[H] January 17, 2023 / Harper Collins
1.05" H x 9.25" L x 6.25" W (1.14 lbs) 320 pages