Book review of River Mumma by Zalika Reid-Benta


Without any career prospects after grad school, Alicia finds her dead-end retail job tolerable only because of two co-workers she sort-of calls friends: bright, bubbly Heaven and jaded, focused Mars. After a rare appearance at one of Heaven’s parties, Alicia tries to return to the Toronto apartment she shares with her mother only to be waylaid by River Mumma, the ethereal Jamaican spirit of the water. Somebody has stolen her comb, and if Alicia doesn’t return it to her in 24 hours, River Mumma will leave this world and take all her waters with her.

Unmoored by the request, Alicia sets off to find the thief. But as visions from her ancestors begin to overwhelm her, and wicked spirits called duppies start to chase down her and her friends, Alicia will need to choose a path, step into her family legacy and go where the river takes her.

Millennial ennui and Jamaican legend intertwine in Zalika Reid-Benta’s propulsive debut novel, River Mumma. Alicia’s quest rests on folk medicine and the oft-buried spirituality of diasporic communities, which Reid-Benta juxtaposes against modern issues of social media and poorly organized subway lines, but also uses to lend a mythic tone to her tale of young people struggling to find their purpose in a big city. 

The robust cast of characters, from Heaven’s spiritualist friend, Oni, to the creepy Whooping Boy duppy, keep the story feeling fresh as Alicia catapults between past and present, though River Mumma rightfully takes center stage with each appearance. “Water heals, water nourishes, water has power,” as Heaven declares, and Alicia’s family ties to the water spirit offer her a guiding light through the choppy seas of her late 20s. Ultimately, Alicia, Heaven and Mars learn to embrace the fullness of life over the apathy that helped them survive a mundane day to day. While these themes get lost on occasion, especially in the chaos of duppy attacks, the adventure along the way is worth a sometimes bumpy ride.

For those entranced by folkloric fantasy, and for fans of N.K. Jemisin and Kat Howard, River Mumma will be a must-read.

Read original article here.

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