Swift River

Essie Chambers

Swift River
United Kingdom
11 June 2024

Swift River

Essie Chambers

What if the price of moving forward is losing the only family you've ever known?

Summer, 1987. On the sweltering streets of the dying New England mill town of Swift River, sixteen-year-old Diamond Newbury is desperately lonely. It's been seven years since her father disappeared, and while her mother is determined to move on, Diamond can't distance herself from his memory. When Diamond receives a letter from a relative she has never met, she unearths long-buried secrets of her family's past and discovers a legacy she never knew she was missing. The more she learns, however, the harder it becomes to reconcile her old life with the one she wants to lead.

So begins an epic story spanning the twentieth century that reveals a much larger picture of prejudice and love, of devotion and abandonment - and will change Diamond's life forever.


Some novels have such a powerful atmosphere that the sense of place and emotional weather stays with you forever, easily summoned to mind by the mere mention of the book’s title. Other works have characters so real they seem to exist in similar realms of memory to people or animals known in real life. Great books combine these qualities, and so it is with Essie Chambers’ debut novel, Swift River.

Diamond Newbury is 16 in the summer of 1987 and she’s had enough of the town of Swift River. It’s where her father disappeared seven years ago; and it’s where her mother has been going to pieces ever since. The locals can’t seem to decide if he took his own life in the river or if he is living a secret second life somewhere else nearby in New England. In such a racist town, where Diamond is now the only Black person left, there are also more sinister possibilities.

Diamond’s mother, although grief-stricken, is ready to have him legally declared dead so they can finally claim his life insurance and move into a less precarious phase of their lives. Diamond is plotting her way out, and suddenly digesting insights into her family due to the unexpected arrival of occasional letters from her father’s cousin, Lena. This new correspondence takes Diamond and the reader back to her father’s childhood in Woodville, before he was sent to live with Aunt Clara in Swift River. When Lena shares old letters of Aunt Clara’s too, the story reaches further back into the early 20th century and into the aftermath of ‘The Leaving’.

Diamond’s is the central voice, however the letters from Lena and Clara, rather than breaking the flow of the story, add to it. Swift River is a novel of big, important themes; it’s also a novel of family, and of friendship. It is magnetic, and it is not at all surprising that it has received so much advance praise from other authors, including Curtis Sittenfeld, Xochitl Gonzalez, Rumaan Alam, and Ann Napolitano.

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