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River Mumma by Zalika Reid-Benta

River Mumma by Zalika Reid-Benta

Jamaican-Canadian author Zalika Reid-Benta’s debut novel Frying Plantain was a series of short stories that followed the life of a Jamaican woman in Toronto. That book charted its main character from childhood through to the cusp of adulthood. The stories were told simply and had a naturalist style, taking readers deep into the community of its protagonist. Which is all to say that River Mumma has similar concerns but takes readers on a very different journey.

Alicia has returned to Toronto after graduate school and finds herself unable to find a proper job and is back living at home. At a party with one of her work colleagues she is introduced to a tarot card reader and told that her life is about to change. On her way home from the party she has an encounter with the River Mumma – a mermaid-like Jamaican river spirit – who gives her a task. Alicia has until sunset the following day to find a hair comb that was stolen from the spirit and is somewhere in Toronto. Although disbelieving at first, the presence of other, more malign spirits pushes Alicia and her two friends, Heaven and Mars, to take the task seriously and they embark on a quest across Toronto to find and recover the comb.

Reid-Benta delivers a fantastical but recognisable Toronto as she sends her characters by bus, train and taxi across the city to fulfill their mission. This is not Jamaica but it is a city that has become infused with the spirit of all of the communities that have immigrated there including the Jamaican community.

River Mumma is a fantasy romp in the vein of books for younger readers like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, in which gods have moved with the times and followed their communities around the world. Reid-Benta fills the plot with Jamaican mythological creatures and folklore, a subject not often found in modern fantasy and a perspective that is very welcome. It is as fantastical as Frying Plantain was down to earth. But River Mumma is also, at its heart, a coming-of-age story for all three of its main characters. Their quest provides a way for them to better understand and connect with their culture, the trauma in their collective colonial past, and the collective power inherent in their community.

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River Mumma by Zalika Reid-Benta



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River Mumma by Zalika Reid-Benta



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