Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction General

River Mumma

by (author) Zalika Reid-Benta

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2023
General, Magical Realism, Coming of Age
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2023
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


"Wholly original, remarkably crafted, and unmatched in voice, atmosphere, and action, River Mumma should be on every must-read list this season. I loved this book!”—Cherie Dimaline, bestselling author of VenCo and Empire of Wild
Issa Rae's Insecure with a magical realist spin: River Mumma is an exhilarating contemporary fantasy novel about a young Black woman who navigates her quarter-life-crisis while embarking on a mythical quest through the streets of Toronto.
Alicia has been out of grad school for months. She has no career prospects and lives with her mom, who won’t stop texting her macabre news stories and reminders to pick up items from the grocery store.

Then, one evening, the Jamaican water deity, River Mumma, appears to Alicia, telling her that she has twenty-four hours to scour the city for her missing comb.

Alicia doesn’t understand why River Mumma would choose her. She can’t remember all the legends her relatives told her, unlike her retail co-worker Heaven, who can reel off Jamaican folklore by heart. She doesn’t know if her childhood visions have returned, or why she feels a strange connection to her other co-worker Mars. But when the trio are chased down by malevolent spirits called duppies, they realize their tenuous bonds to each other may be their only lifelines. With the clock ticking, Alicia’s quest through the city broadens into a journey through time—to find herself and what the river carries.

River Mumma is a powerful portrayal of diasporic identities and a vital examination into ancestral ties. It is a homage to Jamaican storytelling by one of the most invigorating voices in Canadian literature.

About the author

ZALIKA REID-BENTA is a Toronto-based writer whose debut short story collection, Frying Plantain, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Frying Plantain was also nominated for the Forest of Reading Evergreen Award presented by the Ontario Library Association; appeared on must-read lists from Bustle, Refinery29, and Chatelaine to the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and more; and was listed as one of Indigo’s Best Books of the Year. Zalika is the winner of the ByBlacks People’s Choice Award for Best Author, was the June 2019 Writer in Residence for Open Book, and was named a CBC Writer to Watch. She received an M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia University, was a John Gardner Fiction Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and is an alumnus of the Banff Centre Writing Studio. Zalika is currently working on a young-adult fantasy novel drawing inspiration from Jamaican folklore.


Zalika Reid-Benta's profile page

Editorial Reviews

One of:
The Walrus' "Best Books of Fall 2023"
Chatelaine's "Your Official Summer 2023 Reading List"
CBC Books' "74 works of Canadian fiction to read in fall 2023"

River Mumma is a mad-dash hero’s journey of mythical proportions carried out in the span of a single day. It is both a love letter to Toronto and a meditation on ancestor gratitude. A masterclass in fusing cultural stories with current struggles, both internal and global, River Mumma will have you conflicted on whether to speed ahead or slow down to savour the deft writing and unforgettable imagery. Zalika Reid-Benta has created a story that will make you want to live fully, with eyes wide open to take in all the magic around us. There is so much to learn from this book, and so many loveable characters and locales to relish (and a badass spirit you wish you could be more like). Wholly original, remarkably crafted, and unmatched in voice, atmosphere, and action, River Mumma should be on every must-read list this season. I loved this book!”
Cherie Dimaline, bestselling author of VenCo and Empire of Wild
River Mumma is a blessing and Zalika Reid-Benta’s talent is a truly special gift. This is a quest novel that maps Jamaican folklore across modern-day Toronto; three young people are sent on a mission by a goddess and if that doesn’t pique your interest then something is very wrong with you.”
—Victor LaValle, award-winning author of The Changeling

“Prepare to be seduced by this book the way Alicia Gale succumbs to the pull of her ancestors' messages. An emotional quest painted with magic realism and folklore and set against the vibrant backdrop of Toronto’s York region, River Mumma is more of the Zalika Reid-Benta magic I’ve been waiting for.”
Catherine Hernandez, award-winning author of Scarborough the novel and screenwriter of Scarborough the film.
"Zalika Reid-Benta's latest novel moves with the urgency and inevitability of a river. Her shimmering prose and evocative characterizations make it a joy to follow Alicia and her friends on this tense, but powerful journey--not only across Toronto, but into Alicia's own family history. River Mumma is the type of vivid, rich novel I love best. It left me turning pages and pondering possibilities well into the night."
—Alicia Elliott, author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
"River Mumma has everything you want in a great read—magic, adventure and mystery—all with incredible characters you’re rooting for from the very first page."
Jael Richardson, author of Gutter Child
River Mumma is a profoundly moving celebration of kinship, following the journey of a dynamic trio that turn into a family and find ancestry that is at once defining and liberating. It’s funny and colourful, and it paints a nostalgic image of a Toronto where communities create homes, all while specifically honouring Caribbean wit and magic and joy. Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing is riveting; it is meant to entertain and inspire and leave you one step closer to your truth.”
—Téa Mutonji, award-winning author of Shut Up You're Pretty
River Mumma is a love letter to culture, home, and coming of age—and will spark important, relevant book club conversations, too. What a ride! I loved every moment.”
Marissa Stapley, New York Times bestselling author of Lucky

“A fast-paced and absorbing adventure steeped in Caribbean folklore and mythology, River Mumma is a treat for the senses. Zalika Reid-Benta does magical realism right—with delicious storytelling and characters both relatable and compelling, plus the best parts of Toronto on display! From patty discourse to TTC transit woes . . . this novel has it all. I enjoyed every page!”
— Uzma Jalaluddin, bestselling author of Much Ado About Nada and Hana Khan Carries On

“With River Mumma, Zalika Reid-Benta entangles realism so real and fantasy so fantastic. The magic of this novel extends beyond the scintillating crafted universe and remarkable quest that our protagonist takes on. It also includes the sparkling dialogue, nuanced characterizations, and absorbing representation of youthful malaise in contemporary Toronto. River Mumma is a necessary book about race, gender, ancestry, colonialism, eco-existentialism, and desire. I’ve not read anything like it!”
—Jenny Heijun Wills, author of Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.
“A page-turner of a novel that is both funny and poignant, River Mumma magically and seamlessly weaves Jamaican folklore and myth with the winter landscape of Toronto to create a compelling fictional landscape.”
—Shyam Selvadurai, author of Mansions of the Moon
"River Mumma is a luminescent novel! Where liminality lurks in the crevices of dreams, love, friendship—and water, Zalika Reid-Benta delivers us a layered story that is both urgent and satisfying. River Mumma is a vivid, poetic exploration of identity and all the delicate pieces in between."
Chelene Knight, author of the Carol Shields Prize long-listed novel, Junie
“Zalika Reid-Benta is a mesmerizing and generous storyteller. I loved this book!”
—Lauren Tamaki, illustrator of Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams's Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration
“From the first page, I knew I was home. River Mumma embodies the duppy stories our grandmothers used to tell us, the stories that shaped and defined us. A powerful and evocative novel weaving threads of magical realism to create a powerful and moving tale about a search for identity. It is a journey–diasporic, ancestral, cultural, and personal–all coming together by the importance of storytelling by a master storyteller.”
Maurice Broaddus, award-nominated author of Sweep of Stars
"This quirky, fizzy, charming debut surprises and amuses. Reid-Benta writes beautifully, drawing on Caribbean mythologies to create a fast paced and entertaining tale. It's rare to find a novel written with such humour and heart."
USA Today bestselling author T. L. Huchu, for the Nommo Award-winning The Library of the Dead
"A generational saga, a big-city survival narrative, a study of diasporic cultural nuances, all wrapped inside a thrilling adventure. Complex, deep and resonant, River Mumma is coming for your heart."
—Samit Basu, author of The City Inside
"A powerful yet funny, thrilling yet zany exploration of the past and present, a must-read for the end of summer."
The Toronto Star
"Amid a crash course in Jamaican folklore, Reid-Benta’s novel takes a gleeful swipe at everything from Toronto’s unreliable transit system to the cult of celebrity...But it’s the dialogue—uncontrived, self-aware, and often deeply funny—that drives the story...there are conversations—about priorities, about deadlines—that many of us probably need to be having too."
—The Walrus

Other titles by Zalika Reid-Benta